Recently, I started my role as Co-Director of the National Youth Advocacy and Resilience Research Center (NYARRC). We provide seed grants for youth-focused projects at Georgia Southern University, work with graduate and undergraduate assistants to conduct research, and put on a yearly conference that brings together scholars, educators, policymakers, and others to discuss issues around youth violence and prevention. Please reach out if you would like to partner on youth advocacy and resilience issues!
Along with the Chatham-County District Attorney’s Office, we received a $350,000 grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to conduct a Smart Prosecution program and evaluation over the next two years. We will be working with community groups in the Savannah area to address issues of violence and victimization.
Check out interview here with WSAVs Courtney Cole: WSAV Interview
Check out the story with Savannah’s Will Peebles: Savannah Now
I have also joined the Ochsner Institute for Injury Research and Prevention at Memorial Hospital in Savannah. The Institute is committed to preventing community violence, trauma, and abuse. My role will be to provide research support, program evaluation, and pursue grant funding for project activities. Currently, I am working closely with the Savannah Violence Intervention Program (VIP) which collaborates with Memorial, Candler, and St. Joseph’s Hospitals to intervene in violent community conflict. More updates on the way!
One of my favorite parts of “the job” is to work with our great undergraduate and graduate students on research projects. Here are a few papers that have recently been published with students at Georgia Southern University.
In this paper, we examined threatening intimate partner violence experienced by college students. The results revealed that threatening IPV was not very rare and was often accompanied by strong negative emotions. These emotions did influence, and were the driving force behind, seeking help for dealing with the victimization.
Along with two graduate students and colleagues at GSU, we investigated the link between sexual assault and LGBT status in college students. We found that LGBT students were at heightened risk of sexual assault and that experiencing sexual assault is related to alcohol-related problems.
Researching issues in crime and justice is generally very interesting to me. Many topics related to emotions and human behavior, what makes victims and offenders similar, and how we measure concepts in the field are all of particular interest to me. Below is a little bit about what I have been working on recently.
Emotions, Crime, and Suicidal Behaviors
In my years as a student studying criminal behavior, I was very interested in why people act the way they do. I was particularly interested in what the mechanisms behind human behavior might be. This led me to study how emotions, both positive and negative, drive behavior. In a study I did with two colleagues of mine Amy Farrell and Marc Swatt, we explored how anger and depression influences internal and external behavior. We were specifically interested in how these emotions might be differentially processed by males and female. We found that while anger and depression increased fighting in females only anger increased fighting in males. Depression actually reduced the probability of fighting in males. Depression increased self-harm among both males and females but anger reduced the probability of self-harm in females while having nearly no effect for males. This research shows that emotions are intricately intertwined with sex.
Emotions have also been found to be related to offending behavior, feelings toward punishment, and perceptions of law enforcement. Along with my co-authors Michael Rocque and Nicole Rafter, we wanted to know more about how empathy might be related to offending, perceptions of the harshness of laws, and perceptions toward the trustworthiness of law enforcement. We found that empathetic people offended less, thought laws tended to be too lenient, and that officers who were thought to be empathetic were more likely to be thought of as trustworthy and good at their jobs.
One of the most noted, and arguably important, issues in criminal justice is reporting of crime by victims. Most crime goes unreported. Why is this and what might motivate a victim to report? I thought maybe negative emotions would motivate a person to elicit help. Using the British Crime Survey, I found that when victims experienced intense emotions and emotional distress the police were more likely to find out about the experience even after accounting for injury and violent victimizations. This might suggest, similar to the other study we did, that an emotionally in-tuned criminal justice system benefits crime victims. Further, it is important to examine whether or not victims who experience emotional distress are satisfied with the way that they are treated by the police. A related study, completed with Christina Policastro, shows that victims experiencing high levels of emotional distress are more unhappy with their treatment than those with less distress. However, if the police are trusted and seen as legitimate, victims with emotional distress are just as happy (if not more satisfied) with their treatment by the police suggesting that the police are very important to victim satisfaction and likely to victim recovery.
Research shows that externalizing and internalizing behavior often overlap. In other words, people who hurt others sometimes hurt themselves. Thus, the same risk factors may be related to each type of behavior. However, there is reason to believe that some types of risk factors might be related more heavily to one type of behavior than another. A recent study that I conducted with Gregory Zimmerman showed that many risk factors were related to both internalizing and externalizing harm. However, depression was more closely linked to suicidal behavior while associating with delinquent peers was more closely linked to violent behavior.
The Victim-Offender Overlap
My dissertation was concerned with the intersection of offending and victimization. This type of research explores why some offenders and some victims are the same people. Further, why are victims more likely to be offenders and vice-versa? This if often called the victim-offender overlap. Using data from over 30 countries, I found that the victim-offender overlap existed in many different cultures. However, some variables related to offending and victimization, such as family bonding, were stronger in some cultures than others. Another one of our studied showed that the overlap varies based on the level of individualism in the country. It appears that a lot more research needs to be done on this issue.
To address the contextual variation in the victim-offender overlap, I collaborated with Gregory Zimmerman on a separate study. This study used the school context to explore variation in the overlap. We found that victimization was a weaker predictor of violence in urban schools than non-urban schools. This was partially explained by negative emotions felt by students in urban schools.
Measurement in Criminal Justice and Criminology
Besides looking at why people offend or become victimized, I am also interested in how we measure behavior and concepts related to behavior. This is often called measurement. With colleagues Michael Rocque and Jack McDevitt, we investigated whether traditional measures of procedural justice and confidence in the police operated the same by race. Using data from the National Police Research Platform we did find consistent properties of common measures of these concepts.
Similarly, another study on two conceptualizations of self-control theory, lead author Michael Rocque, myself, and Gregory Zimmerman found that two of the most common measures of self-control in criminological research operated equally well using a sample of adolescents.
While most of my research focuses on the above topics, I am very excited about other areas of research, particularly those that my close colleagues are working on, and I am grateful that they include me in on their important studies. A recent study, led by Michael Rocque, examined the role of identity change as a factor in stopping criminal behavior (called “desistance”). The study found that identity, indeed, was a mechanism through which individuals previously involved with poor behavior desisted at a later point in time even after accounting for age, social bonds, and other correlates.
Rocque and I have collaborated on two studies considering the impact of social bonds on offending and victimization. In the first study, we found that social bonds influenced whether or not prisoners recidivated after release. Prisoners who increased their prosocial bonds were less likely to recidivate and those who left prison with high prosocial attitudes were more likely to succeed after being released.
In the second study, we found that strong family bonds protected individuals from victimization across 30 different countries. Interestingly, the bond to the family was most protective in countries that believed that the family is very important.
Rocque and I have collaborated on several other publications. A recent study examined the macro-level impacts of marriage rates on crime rates. This has not been previously examined, although marriage at the individual-level shows a strong link to criminal behavior and divorce rates at the macro-level are associated with crime rates. We found that, indeed, higher marriages rates were associated with lower crime rates.
Along with Gregory Zimmerman and Brandon Welsh, our recent study showed that neighborhood youth organization (such as local YMCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs) are beneficial to healthy communities by promoting child-centered social control.
If you have any other questions or interest in my research please feel free to contact me or visit my ResearchGate page and google scholar page.