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In Case You Missed It – June 8, 2015 – Virginia addresses campus sexual violence, APA AC

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In this week’s In Case You Missed It (a roundup of articles touching on psychology, health, mental health and social justice issues that we collate from multiple news and commentary websites), we cover how transgender people choose their new names, Virginia’s approach to campus sexual assault, the expansion of APA’s ACT Raising Safe Kids program into prisons and more.

“Call me Caitlyn” — that was how we met Caitlyn Jenner last week in a groundbreaking Vanity Fair cover story. For many transgender people, choosing a new name is the first outward claim on their new identity. “It helps [other] people to start seeing and thinking about you differently — even if your body hasn’t changed, or if body changes aren’t part of your transition plan, they still have to call you something different,” said Colt Keo-Meier, a clinical psychologist and APA member in Houston who works with the transgender community there (and happens to be transgender himself). Certainly, not everyone who transitions will change their name, either because they’ve already got a gender-neutral name or because they simply don’t feel the need to have a name that matches their gender identity. But for many, it’s a symbolic and visible step. To learn more about transgender identity issues in psychology, check out our resource page.

The controversial and discredited Rolling Stone article on an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia has made Virginia ground zero in the national debate over rape on college campuses. However, months before the story broke, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) appointed a task force to examine ways to combat campus sexual violence. The Washington Post’s editorial board credits McAuliffe for addressing this serious issue and his task force with creating a series of useful recommendations. In their recently issued report, the task force outlines new strategies to help prevent sexual violence, better track its occurrence and improve how cases are handled and victims treated. Among the 21 recommendations: make it easier for victims to report unwanted sexual attention by using new technologies and offering online options, include more cooperation between colleges and police and improve training for those who investigate cases. By taking a statewide approach and encouraging an exchange of ideas and information across higher education institutions and from law enforcement, Virginia sets an example that the rest of the nation might do well to follow. For more on this topic, check out our recent blog post on the advocacy to prevent sexual assault on the George Washington University campus.

Women reporters write just one third of the stories.  In terms of the topics women reporters write on, gender equality is the rule in the (somewhat predictable) areas of education, health, religion, and lifestyle, but women are underrepresented in most other areas, such as politics, foreign policy, business, technology, sports, and science.  The Women’s Media Center just released its annual report on the status of women in media, finding that in terms of the bylines, women continue to be seriously underrepresented.  Topping the chart are the New York Times and The Denver Post (both with 68% of the bylines by men and 32% by women).

At least 25% of females and 10% of males report experiencing sexual violence as a child, according to a CDC report released this week, based on Violence Against Children Surveys of 18- to 24-year-olds in Swaziland, Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Haiti and Cambodia.  Few child victims receive the help and support they need.  These experiences are linked to unwanted pregnancy, depression, and disease.  As the report authors write, “experiencing trauma as a child can contribute to biologic changes, such as altered hormonal responses as well as mental illness, such as depression, or other psychological changes like poor social relations and low self-esteem, all of which elevate risk for developing chronic diseases.”

According to a study published in APA’s journal, Psychology of Violence, cyberbullying is not more emotionally harmful than in-person bullying or a combination of cyber- and in-person bullying, and in fact may be less harmful.   Several factors may account for this:  Cyberbullying is usually shorter and does not involve significant power imbalances.  Although there may be large numbers of witnesses, cyberbullying is less likely to involve multiple perpetrators.   Also, technology-only incidents were more likely to involve strangers.  In-person incidents of harassment by schoolmates and other known individuals were more distressing.

APA’s ACT Raising Safe Kids program teaches research-based, positive parenting skills to prevent childhood abuse and neglect and to help parents learn better parenting approaches. One powerful setting for ACT in the United States is prisons. ACT has been established in correctional facilities in Massachusetts, Ohio and New York. Inmates are a particularly important population to reach because many are parents of minor children, and the number of children with parents in prison is continuing to rise, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. It’s tough on kids and parents when a parent is incarcerated, so positive interventions can make a big difference. Childhood development is a key topic in ACT programs. Parents learn what to expect from their children at different ages, for example, that temper tantrums are part of normal development for young children, who are not yet able to control their emotions. That lesson gives them the intellectual tools to avoid harsh punishment and opt instead for alternatives. Like other ACT program sites, ACT in prisons focuses its information on children from infancy to age 8. While parents often understand the physical developmental stages of childhood, many are unfamiliar with the psychological stages of development. Facilitators work with prison staff to make sure that ACT classes complement existing prison programs and schedules. Inmates can take the classes any time during their prison stay, and programs are offered several times a year. Over the years, ACT programs have reached more than 1,500 inmates, a number that APA ACT National Director Julia da Silva would like to increase because of the clear need for the program. “Doing this program while they are still in prison gives inmates an urgency in terms of, ‘I need to be better, I want to get out of this, I don’t want to come back to this,'” she says.

What do you think of these stories? Did we leave anything out?

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