Boston College School of Social Work Assistant Professor Jessica Shaw has received a $313,558 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women for a research project that aims to aid adolescent survivors of sexual assault.

Jessica Shaw

Jessica Shaw

Shaw, the first BCSSW faculty member to earn a DOJ grant, seeks to better understand mandated reporting procedures for adolescent victims of sexual assault in one jurisdiction in Massachusetts, and whether the process – which differs from other communities across the United States – leads to better support services for victims and more instances of prosecuted assaults.

She hopes the findings from her project, titled “Evaluation of a Cross-System Cooperative Response to Adolescent Sexual Assault Victims," can be used to inform the development of better-coordinated interventions across medical, legal, advocacy, and child protective systems that best address the needs of survivors, while improving upon a criminal justice system that has dismally low rates of prosecution and conviction nationwide.

Shaw is a member of a task force organized by the Massachusetts Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program that is developing discipline-specific best practice guidelines for coordinated, cross-system responses to adolescent sexual assault. Observing the need for more information on the impact of mandatory reporting procedures across the Commonwealth provided the impetus for Shaw to undertake the study.

“I’m hopeful we can provide useful information to the practitioners addressing sexual assault in their everyday work, as well as to the policymakers and other critical decision-makers who are positioned to change and define system policies, practices, and coordination,” said Shaw, whose co-investigator is Megan Greeson, assistant professor of psychology at DePaul University.

“I believe that, above all, research gains much of its value in its ability to inform policy and practice. Thus, we need to be involved in efforts to solve problems, towards better serving individuals and whole communities.”  

BCSSW Associate Dean of Research David Takeuchi said Shaw’s project “moves beyond the usual focus on an individual or single agency’s handling of sexual assaults against adolescents and turns attention to the multi-sectoral engagement in responding to survivors and their families. It has the promise to highlight how the system can work better and more effectively to respond to the unique needs of adolescents who have been victimized.”

–University Communications | Nate Herpich, BC School of Social Work