Karen S. Calhoun

Karen S. CalhounWilliam A. Owens Award 2002

Karen S. Calhoun, Professor of Psychology, is considered one of the world’s experts in the field of sexual violence. Her groundbreaking research is significant for defining the scope and consequences of sexual assault, as well as its treatment and prevention.

Sexual aggression is surprisingly common in the United States, with estimates indicating one in eight adult women has been raped. Not only do these victims face psychological problems, they also encounter economic consequences, physical health problems, and high rates of substance abuse and suicide. The costs of sexual violence are overwhelmingly high for the victims and society as a whole. Dr. Calhoun seeks to develop a deeper understanding of sexual violence by deciphering both its causes and consequences. She has been one of only a handful of researchers to focus on both the victim and the perpetrator. Her early work established that rape victims are often subjected to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and that PTSD arising from sexual assault is second only to that from military combat.

Through her pioneering research, Dr. Calhoun has discovered that, for still unknown reasons, initial sexual victimization drastically increases the risk for further victimization. She continues to shed light on this puzzle by identifying attention and memory deficits following sexual assault. Additionally, she studies perpetrator behavior, which also contributes to understanding prevention. As a result, she and her colleagues have developed a preventive intervention program that shows promise in reducing sexual assault rates.

Recognized as a leading theoretician and researcher on sexual violence, Dr. Calhoun has received funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Justice, and the National Institute of Mental Health for her innovative studies. Her work is published in the field’s top journals, some of which have a 90 percent rejection rate.

Previous Award

Creative Research Medal 2001