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UNH researchers working on public health issues with $664k grant

Union Leader Correspondent

October 08. 2017 9:51PM
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire are working to tackle sexual assault, domestic violence, mental health issues and problem drinking with a grant from the National Institutes of Health. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Correspondent)

DURHAM — Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have received a $664,117 grant to evaluate a strategy they created to keep on-campus incidents of sexual assault and intimate partner violence from leading to mental health issues or problem drinking.

College students were chosen as the target population for the three-year project by the National Institutes of Health because of the high rates of incidents involving sexual assault, domestic violence and drinking on campuses nationwide, according to officials at UNH.

“This grant will allow us to test an intervention we’ve developed,” said Katie Edwards, principal investigator and associate professor of psychology and women’s studies. “If shown to be effective, the intervention could be adapted and implemented in a variety of settings.”

Usually, she said, victims report their assaults to friends, not the authorities.

UNH plans to test whether training those who might receive a disclosure can help reduce rates of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and problem drinking in victims who eventually go to the authorities.

“We believe that by providing people with information on why positive reactions (like emotional support) are important as well as examples of what to say and what not to say and ample opportunity for skill building will make a significant difference for victims,” Edwards said in a news release.

Edwards says that 20 percent of women experience an attempted or completed rape while in college, and even more experience other types of sexual assault such as unwanted contact or fondling. Providing people with information about how to react when a victim confides in another student or faculty member will help in the reporting and healing process, Edwards said.

The total number of enrolled students in all programs at UNH in Durham was 15,236 at the beginning of the 2016 academic year.

UNH Police Department statistics for the last three years indicate reported rapes on campus were down to 19 in the 2016 academic year; 17 of those reported rapes took place inside residential facilities.

In the 2015 academic year, 38 rapes were reported on campus, with 25 of them taking place in residential facilities.

In the 2016 academic year, six people reported being fondled. Four of those alleged incidents occurred in residential facilities.

According to Jennifer Johnson of the Durham Police Department, there were six reported sexual assaults involving UNH students last academic year. Between Aug. 1 and Oct. 5, Durham police have received two reports of sexual assaults involving UNH students.

Problem drinking

Edwards said problem drinking and sexual assault are closely linked on college campuses throughout the country.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which is funding the research, surveys show that 60 percent of college students between the ages of 18 and 22 report drinking in the past month.

Almost two out of three of them engaged in binge drinking within the same time frame. The institute cited a 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health completed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

UNH police say that in the past three academic years, 903 people have been arrested for liquor law violations on campus. A total of 938 people were referred for disciplinary action because of liquor law violations.

Durham police reported arresting 277 underage parties from Aug. 26, 2016, to April 30, 2017.

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