May 16, 2022 SPRING 2022

The Real Nature of Sexual Violence

Professor Elizabeth Jeglic, Ph.D., uses research and straight-forward approaches in her mission to advance the prevention of sexual violence.

By Mary Anderson

First there were the bombshell headlines. Roger Ailes. Harvey Weinstein. Jeffrey Epstein. In short order, beginning with the 2018 lawsuit against the late Fox chairman Ailes, high-profile cases of sexual harassment and violence came to dominate front pages and news feeds. And with each new exposé, the phone rang in the office of Elizabeth Jeglic, Ph.D., at John Jay College. “Several times a week, I was getting calls about the Me Too movement, and Weinstein and Epstein,” says Jeglic, a Professor of Psychology who readily became a sought-after expert thanks to a career devoted to sexual violence prevention.

In doing the interviews, she saw her goal as outreach—an opportunity to give factually-based information to the media about the real nature of sexual violence. “It’s not the stranger in the white van,” says Jeglic. “We know that 93 percent of kids are offended against by someone known to them.”

What makes the work—of short-circuiting sex offenders before they strike—particularly daunting is that they’re off the radar: 95 percent of sex crimes are committed by someone who is not on the sex offender registry or has no prior history. Jeglic came to the research as a doctoral student at Binghamton University through a government-run summer program in her native Canada. “I got matched with correctional services of Canada and the sex offender treatment program,” she recounts. “It was really a fortuitous moment because they were developing a national treatment program.” As a result, Jeglic was not only deeply involved in creating the program but also implementing and evaluating it. One of her clinical internship supervisors took notice of her expertise and suggested she apply for a faculty position at John Jay. In 2003, Jeglic joined John Jay as an Assistant Professor in the department of Psychology and has to date authored numerous papers and three books on sexual violence, trying to both solve for the five percent on the registry with best practices in treatment and for the 95 percent not on the registry with prevention.

With regard to the latter, she cites recent groundbreaking research, that came from John Jay’s Sex Offender Research Lab (SORL), which found that the majority of child sexual abuse happens during summers and after school, times when free or affordable childcare is difficult to obtain for underprivileged families. The study was authored by one of the many John Jay students that Jeglic, and other Psychology faculty members, helped mentor in clinical psychology. “We spend all this money on the sex offender registry, and if we just take some of that money and instead, have after-school programs and summer camps for kids from families who can’t afford it, we’d do so much more in terms of preventing sexual abuse.”

For her part, she’s hoping to help move the needle on public policy in this regard by contributing research to a project out of John Hopkins University that will make recommendations to Congress on legislation to help prevent sex crimes. In the meantime, Jeglic has lately pivoted to try to educate the public. Her recent book, Protecting your Child from Sexual Abuse, is meant for the everyday reader—moms like herself. That’s why she writes blog posts for Psychology Today. “I recently wrote about how to keep your kids safe online,” she says. And as for her three kids? “They joke that they are my guinea pigs.”

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