Sexual assault on college campuses is focus as KU researchers join study

The University of Kansas in Lawrence
The University of Kansas in Lawrence

University of Kansas researchers have been tapped to take on sexual assault on campuses by helping schools in three states adopt policies and prevention strategies.

A three-year, $750,000 grant, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health, will allow three KU researchers — one from political science, another from social welfare and the third from family medicine — to research sexual assault policies at eight selected campuses.

The goal is to develop model plans for how campuses can address sexual violence.

The Heartland Sexual Assault Policies & Prevention on Campuses Project will work with schools in Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas, including KU and Kansas State University.

The Heartland research team is one of nine teams in different parts of the country charged with the same mission.

“Sexual violence has historically been discussed as a problem that individual women experience, which has kept this problem hidden, discussed in secrecy and shame, and has contributed to ignoring the deleterious impact sexual violence poses for society,” said Alesha Doan, KU associate professor of political science in the School of Public Affairs and Administration.

Working with Doan, the grant’s principal investigator, are Juliana Carlson, assistant professor in the School of Social Welfare, and Natabhona Mabachi, a research assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

In the last five years, at the urging of President Barack Obama’s administration, a national spotlight has been turned on the issue of sexual violence on college campuses.

Student rallies on campuses across the country, including in Missouri and Kansas, have demanded that college administrators do more to protect students from sexual violence, investigate reported cases, punish perpetrators and become more transparent about the number of rapes and sexual assaults that occur there every year.

Doan co-led and Carlson and Mabachi both served as members on the Chancellor’s Task Force on Sexual Assault, which last year reported to KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little 27 recommendations for policies related to sexual assault on the campus. Among the recommendations implemented at KU were the creation of a Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center and memorandums of understanding with the city of Lawrence and the city’s Sexual Trauma & Abuse Care Center to address sexual violence.

Carlson said in a statement that action KU has taken stemming from those recommendations “likely helped secure the grant.”

Doan admits, though that like at other campuses across the country there is still work to be done at KU.

Currently KU is dealing with lawsuits involving two former members of the university’s women’s rowing team, who have said they were sexually assaulted at different times by the same football player in KU student housing. A third suit filed by the parents of one of the rowers accuses KU of falsely advertising safe housing on the campus.

KU and Kansas State University are among more than 200 colleges and universities that are under federal investigation regarding how reports of sexual assault were handled by the schools under Title IX law.

Mará Rose Williams: 816-234-4419, @marawilliamskc