Talk Explores Sexual Assault, Religiosity

Dr. Sarah Jirek

Dr. Sarah Jirek

Sarah Jirek, Westmont associate professor of sociology, compares the rate of campus sexual assault to religious service attendance in different U.S. states in a talk Tuesday, Oct. 3, at 7 p.m.in Hieronymus Lounge at Kerrwood Hall. The Paul C. Wilt Phi Kappa Phi Lecture, “The Relationship Between Campus Sexual Assault Rates and Religiosity: Differences in Prevalence or Reporting?” is free and open to the public.

Jirek’s research shows lower campus sexual assault rates in more religious states. “This correlation could be the result of differences in reporting (such as self-suppression of reporting or institutional suppression of reporting) in more religious areas of the country,” she says, “or it could reflect actual differences in the prevalence of campus sexual assault. I discuss the vastly different implications of these two competing explanations.”

Jirek, an alumna of Westmont, earned a Master of Social Work and a joint doctorate in sociology and social work from the University of Michigan. Her teaching and research interests include gender, social inequalities, identity, violence, deviance, prison re-entry, meaning-making, narrative and resilience.

She says campus sexual assault is a widespread social and public health problem in the U.S., and religious involvement has been linked with many prosocial behaviors and with individual well-being. “More religious areas of the country have lower reported campus sexual assault rates, although more research is needed to understand this relationship,” she says. “As a society, we need to continue reducing the stigma and victim-blaming often associated with sexual assault victimization. Also, religious institutions could play an important and increased role in combatting rape culture and rape-supportive beliefs.”