Kait Boyle, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology, uses multiple theoretical perspectives and methodological approaches to increase understanding of the prevalence, denial, and reporting of rape on college campuses.
Boyle first became passionate about researching sexual violence when as an undergraduate student she was rudely awakened to the reality of assault- not through preventions programs, but from her classmates’ stories.
She notes, “over these past ten years, I’ve felt increasingly inspired as sexual assault has entered center stage on both higher education and mainstream news outlets. This issue has garnered significant attention from President Obama’s administration- there’s no denying that sexual assault is considered a serious social problem today.”
Boyle’s research incorporates cultural, social, and criminological approaches to understanding how women frame and process unwanted sexual experiences.
Primarily, she has explored the common occurrence of “unacknowledged rape”- when women’s experiences meet the legal definition of rape but they do not label it as such.
“Specifically, I examine how identity and the affective disturbance produced by sexual violence predict labeling as well as shame, anger, posttraumatic stress, hazardous drinking, relationship termination, and other important post-assault outcomes.”
Within her research, Boyle has also explored how sexual scripts, relational power dynamics, and identity processes shape the labeling of rape and cognitive and affective responses to rape.
“I expand on this research in my dissertation by examining identity processes that influence psychological, emotional, and behavioral outcomes of sexual violence, paying particular attention to ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’ identities.”
Boyle hopes her research will accomplish greater understanding of how women and men cope with assault and change from ‘victims,’ to ‘survivors,’ to individuals who no longer deeply identify with the assault or are as affected by it.
“Work like mine and others contribute by taking a novel theoretical approach to an important social problem, while having the potential to increase understanding of how we react to negative life events more generally- from serious victimization to more mundane transgressions and conflicts,” she emphasizes.
Boyle also has long-term goals for her research.
“Much further down the line, as I gain deeper theoretical understanding of this process, I hope to use this knowledge to develop programming for teenagers and college students to explain how cultural constructs and power influence assault and to describe common responses to assault.”
She hopes this programming would help people support their friends who confide in them about experiencing sexual assault.
“While most rape goes unreported, most women tell at least one friend about what happened. Increasing the understanding of friends who might be disclosed to, and giving them tools to be supportive, could potentially improve survivors’ outcomes.”
After graduation, Boyle intends to work in an academic or post-doctoral position. She hopes to continue researching and teaching in the areas of social psychology, violence, deviance, and criminology.