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Alliant professor and forensic psychologist develops training to prevent sexual misconduct in schools

Profile style photo of Dr. Glenn LisponAlliant prides itself on training professionals to solve real world, significant problems in the diverse communities in which they live and work. Glenn S. Lipson, PhD, associate professor and interim program director at Alliant’s California School of Forensic Studies (CSFS), is setting just such an example of this with his work to address and prevent sexual misconduct in both the San Diego and San Bernardino County schools.

During his clinical work a few years back, he began to notice an inordinate number of his female college age clients reporting past intimate relationships with teachers who they had first met while in high school. As he started to study this further, he discovered three things: the relationships, although not intimate at first, began while the girls were students in high school where a teacher appeared to be “grooming” them in anticipation of a sexual relationship when they turned 18 — the legal age of consent; the psychological and emotional impact on the girls a few years later when they sought treatment was devastating; and the prevalence of this type of behavior in the schools was striking. Dr. Lipson knew more was needed to address the problem than just treating these girls after the fact.

His next step was to begin talking with officials in the schools and in the community at large about the problem, so that people would better understand what he was discovering and could collaborate with him in finding a programmatic solution. Dr. Lipson recruited parents, teachers, students, lawyers, classified employees, union representatives, campus safety officers, clergy, and school counselors to participate in a series of collaborative meetings that lasted for more than one year. This helped everyone involved understand what was happening and, among other things, to begin understanding the training that was needed to prevent this sort of thing and to spot it when it did happen.

With a school board’s support, he hired an internet training expert to help him launch “Making Right Choices,” a multimedia training initiative designed to educate all school personnel about the problem. The training is part in-person and part online, and includes film clips from anonymous victims willing to tell their story in hopes of helping to prevent future occurrences of this type of sexual misconduct. Dr. Lipson has gotten his graduate students involved as well, they participate in the training and conduct research on its effectiveness.

To date, about 4,200 educators in San Diego, and an additional 2,500 in San Bernardino, County have completed the training, with another 125,000 soon to participate. A total of 133 districts are anticipated to take part in the training. The involved school districts have committed more than $1 million to support the program, primarily with funds derived from risk management cost savings from insurance.  (Insurance companies who insure the schools know the tremendous expense which results when one of these incidents occurs and ends up in litigation against the school district. They are gladly supporting prevention programs and willing to reduce the price of insurance for those districts participating in the training.)

From there, he began advocating for legislation. Dr. Lipson is pursuing a law to support the program, a law that will make it a crime for someone to groom a student for the purpose of a subsequent sexual relationship. He recently met with a California assemblyman and potential sponsors for this legislation.

The scope of the project, which began as a local community undertaking, continues to grow. It has become an expanded movement to bring awareness to a new level around California and beyond. Dr. Lipson has created a speakers’ panel to present at conferences and to community and professional interest groups.

Throughout this process, Dr. Lipson has been able to integrate his research findings and experience into curricula for his classes. CSFS students have been doing research, attending community meetings, drafting supporting school policies, and working to provide the training to school employees. This is, indeed, an effort consistent with Alliant’s mission, in general, and its focus on community engagement for the purpose of solving some of society’s thorniest problems.