CPH event to explore roots of sexual assault on campus

Columbia University authors to visit for book talk, signing

By: 

  • Misti Crane
February 5, 2020
"Sexual Citizens" talk title card

Ohio State University’s College of Public Health will bring Jennifer Hirsch and Shamus Khan of Columbia University to Columbus on March 5 to discuss their research – and newly published book Sexual Citizens – examining the social roots of campus sexual assault. 

Amy Fairchild

Dr. Amy Fairchild

“What’s so powerful about this paradigm-shifting book is that Hirsch and Kahn use rich, moving and sometimes harrowing stories to help us understand that if we continue to approach this one person at a time, we continue to miss opportunities,” said Ohio State College of Public Health Dean Amy Fairchild. 

“Through these individual accounts, they reveal the larger social fabric that shapes behavior, making it clear that we must address sexual assault as a public health problem.”

Research has shown that as many as one in three women and almost one in six men on college campuses will have been sexually assaulted by the time they graduate. Hirsch and Khan’s work seeks to explore why assault is such a common feature of college life and what can be done to prevent it.

The book Sexual Citizens draws on the Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation at Columbia University, considered the most comprehensive study of sexual assault on campus to date.

The research and book address the social ecosystem that the authors argue makes sexual assault predictable, exploring factors including physical spaces, alcohol, peer groups and cultural norms.

Jennifer Hirsch

Dr. Jennifer Hirsch

“I embarked on the research that led to Sexual Citizens because it felt to me like something was missing from the conversation about campus sexual assault: a public health perspective,” said Hirsch, professor and deputy chair for doctoral studies in the Department of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.

“Although the past six or seven years have seen enormous attention to this issue, the predominant focus in the popular press has been on problems with adjudication, or on notions of sociopathic perpetrators. I thought, how about we study campus sexual assault’s social roots, so that we can do more to prevent assaults from happening in the first place.” 

Hirsch said her hope is that this work will reframe how people think about the problem –including understanding that families, communities, religious institutions, youth-serving organizations and K-12 schools all have a role to play in preparing young people to become sexually active without harming others. 

“We’ve done a great job in America of creating a context in which young people learn to drive so that they can move safely through the world in 2-ton vehicles. We don’t just let them grab the keys and go. We need an equivalent level of social effort to prepare young people for sex.” 

The event will be held from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. March 5 in the Ohio Union Performance Hall. The moderated conversation, led by radio host Ann Fisher of WOSU Public Media, will begin at 5 p.m. Fisher also plans to interview the authors on her program All Sides with Ann Fisher earlier that day.

Sexual Citizens contains explicit descriptions of sexual assaults and our moderated discussion of the research and the book will include similar details. The conversation may be disturbing to some audience members.

Other lead sponsors of the event are the Department of Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies, The Women's Place, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Social Work, the Department of Sociology, the Office of Outreach and Engagement, Ohio State ADVANCE and the Wexner Center for the Arts. Cosponsors include University Libraries, The Ohio State University Department of Public Safety/Police Division and the Office of Institutional Equity.

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About The Ohio State University College of Public Health

The Ohio State University College of Public Health is a leader in educating students, creating new knowledge through research, and improving the livelihoods and well-being of people in Ohio and beyond.  The College’s divisions include biostatistics, environmental health sciences, epidemiology, health behavior and health promotion, and health services management and policy.   It is ranked 23rd among all colleges of public health in the U.S. by U.S. News and World Report, and also includes the top 7-ranked MHA degree program.  The College provides leadership and expertise for Ohio and the world through its Center for Health Outcomes, Policy and Evaluation Studies (HOPES), Center for Public Health Practice (CPHP), and Center for the Advancement of Tobacco Science (CATS).