RCGV Doctoral Student Puts Her Heart Where Her Research Is
This past summer, RCGV doctoral student Amanda Osuna (School of Criminal Justice) got some unexpected news. Looking for extra cash, she applied for a job through an agency working with at-risk youth in Lansing. However, that all changed when she was told she’d be stationed instead at the United Methodist Church over 60 miles away in Riverdale, MI. Amanda said the rural town had virtually “zero wifi” and the recent shutdown of a meth lab left many parents without steady income. Despite the distance, Amanda made the decision that serving a low-income community in the middle of a national health crisis was more aligned with her beliefs than proximity.
“It was the best thing that could’ve happened to me,” Amanda said. “I think being involved in the program has really opened my eyes. Not only through research and academia but just giving back and doing positive things. At the end of the day, that is what we all want our research to do — to actually help someone.”
Over the summer she worked in the food pantry, kid’s club and helped kids meet their target through a summer reading program. Months after her internship ended, Amanda still volunteers at the Riverdale church. She said that working with the kids and their families has inspired her to investigate how drug use and manufacturing impacts communities and their families. Working with youth labeled as at-risk is a passion that has driven Amanda’s research since she was a graduate student at Florida Atlantic University. Before Amanda moved to Michigan in 2018 to pursue her doctorate, she conducted a study teaching at-risk youth non-violent, conflict resolution in the city of Rivera Beach, Florida — Amanda’s home state. Upon meeting the youth participants for the first time, Amanda remembers being warned by the staff about the troublesome youth.
“When I got to actually meet [the youth participants] they just needed somebody to show them that they cared, that you love them,” Amanda said. “In fact, when the program wrapped up and I finished my project, the kids were so happy that I would come back and visit them to the point where they would hug me.”
Amanda said her biggest take away from that experience was the need for service work “outside of academia and research.”
“It can even be with your own research participants, which in my case it was, but the fact that you are there giving back more than what you are getting in return is super important.”
With her advocacy mindset intact, her latest study investigates how juvenile victims of sexual violence are treated on a national-level. Her project is a content analysis of sexual assault statutes across all 50 sates, making it the first of its kind. When Amanda first started the project, she was looking to compare consent laws, but in the process of combing through 130,000 statutes she noticed a large discrepancy. The U.S. has no federal regulations on how juvenile victims are treated. For example, certain states protect juvenile victims through pre-recorded testimonials, as to not expose them to additional trauma from being in court. In other states, such a luxury does not exist.
Through her content analysis, Amanda deciphered the following:
- There needs to be a universal definition of sexual assault and reevaluation of the severity of these acts
- More services need to be made accessible to young victims
- The need for less variance in sexual assault statues from state to state
- States need more protective measures in place for juvenile sexual assault victims
The manuscript from Amanda’s study is still under review, but if it’s published, she hopes those working in the legal field will find it informative. Her study aims to highlight the “positive and negative” practices of individual states in the hope that policymakers can learn from each other on how to protect juvenile victims of sexual assault.