$750,000 awarded for sexual assault prevention

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Keith Kaufman. Courtesy of Keith Kaufman

Portland State has been awarded a $750,000 grant to create a model for sexual assault prevention on college campuses.

The grant is funded by the Department of Justice’s Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking office–SMART–and was awarded to PSU psychology professor Keith Kaufman.

“Earlier in my career we had taken a look at issues relating to child sexual abuse, and its only been more recently that we’ve had opportunities to look at active strategies to prevent abuse,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman has been studying sexual assault and violence for over 30 years, and has been interested in figuring out the key factors in preventing sexual assault and violence before it occurs.

This is one reason Kaufman finds this particular grant exciting–SMART specifically requested proposals from investigators who would develop a prevention-based program that would address situational factors of sexual assault.

This is exactly what Kaufman is doing.

“What this grant is intended to do is to look at student safety risks related to environments, situations, and policies and the interplay between these areas and individual risk factors,” Kaufman said.

Situational factors include dark and isolated environments on college campuses, risky situations that could involve un-monitored alcohol intake, and the absence of community policies that may help prevent risky situations from occurring.

In three years, Kaufman intends to have a preventive approach to sexual assault on college campuses in the form of a manual that can then be used by any university.

The funded project will develop a prevention model with help from eight college campuses. The campuses include Portland State University, Portland Community College, Linfield College, Pennsylvania State University, Johns Hopkins University, Catholic University, Fairleigh Dickinson University and Northern Virginia Community College.

On each of the eight college campuses, Kaufman and his co-investigator, Sarah McMahon of Rutgers University, will work with university programs or units, along with campus safety and community stakeholders, to develop the “Campus Situational Prevention Approach.”

Kaufman and McMahon will focus on six programs or units at each campus, including housing, Greek organizations, diversity groups and programs responsible for children.

The funds from the grant will be used to develop a four-step prevention process. This process involves: (1) identifying risks; (2) identifying practical and effective solutions; (3) prioritizing those solutions; and (4) developing implementation plans and taking actions.

As the co-investigator, McMahon is excited to have the opportunity to be involved in the translation of Kaufman’s successful child sexual abuse prevention model to college campuses.

“I believe one of the key aspects of good prevention work is to tailor efforts to particular communities, and Kaufman’s model allows this work to be very specific and responsible to the needs of each campus,” McMahon said.

Kaufman and McMahon are including small, large, private and public universities and colleges because campuses in each category are very different.

“Some are very self-contained, some are integrated into community, and that’s the important thing about the four-step process, it allows for tailoring the approach to the campuses’ particular needs,” Kaufman said.

The implementation of the CSP approach will be split up into two phases.

The first phase of the project will involve three campuses: PSU, PCC and Johns Hopkins University. In this phase, Kaufman will work with units on each of these three campuses to tailor the CSP approach to the culture and practices of colleges and universities.

In the second phase, the implementation manual for the approach, developed in the first phase, will be handed off to the five remaining campuses for their independent implementation. Representatives from the campuses will then provide feedback on how the approach worked on their particular campus, and their suggestions will aim to further strengthen this prevention approach.

The second phase campuses will include Penn State, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Catholic University, Linfield College and Northern Virginia Community College.

“One of the things I like is it’s a grass roots process,” Kaufman said. “[This approach] ensures that students’ voices are a part of asking key prevention questions, like what are the risks that we need to worry about, and what are solutions that would be effective.”

On each of the eight campuses, many different facets of the campus community will be involved in the program development process. For each of the participating campus programs or units, a work group will be formed to guide the first two steps–e.g., risk brainstorming and solution development–of the four-step CSP approach process. The work groups will include a program or unit administrator, staff and faculty, a diversity representative, campus safety representation and between two to four students. More student input may be given in the form of online surveys or online bulletin boards.

Kaufman says the preventative approach to sexual assault will provide campuses with strategies and tools to combat the issue. “We aren’t swooping in and solving all these problems,” Kaufman said. “We are developing a prevention process for universities to use that helps them better identify key risks as well as solutions that are effective and affordable. These solutions are then prioritized for implementation.”

Kaufman wants to start a dialogue early, rather than dealing with a situation after the fact.

“The Campus Situational Prevention Approach is designed to encourage administrators, staff, faculty and students to be more proactive in identifying and addressing campus safety risks to reduce sexual assault,” Kaufman said.

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