LOWELL, Mass. – Human trafficking. Sexual assault. Child sexual abuse. They are some of the most serious issues society faces today and the U.S. Department of Justice has turned to UMass Lowell faculty to conduct research needed to address those problems.

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) – the research, development and evaluation agency of the Department of Justice – has awarded three grants totaling nearly $2 million to UMass Lowell faculty to conduct research that will guide federal and state policy in these and related areas. With the latest grants, UMass Lowell has received $4.2 million from the NIJ to support eight research projects addressing pressing topics including terrorist behavior, police discipline and the control and monitoring of sex offenders.

The new grants are:

  • $1 million to conduct the first-ever comprehensive nationwide assessment of sex offender registration and notification systems. The study – driven in part by a congressional mandate in the 2006 Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act – is led by Andrew Harris of UMass Lowell’s School of Criminology and Justice Studies, who is one of the nation’s leading experts on sex offender registries. Working with Harris will be Joshua Dyck of the Department of Political Science and Vinod Vokkarrane of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
  • $498,000 for research into the factors that influence the prosecution of child sexual abuse cases, led by Stephanie Block of the Psychology Department and Linda Williams of the School of Criminology and Justice Studies.
  • $490,000 to research the effects of new forensic-testing policies and protocols on the outcome of sexual assault cases, including the impact of state laws that require such testing. The research will be conducted by Williams, along with fellow School of Criminology and Justice Studies faculty members Melissa Morabito and April Pattavina.

All of the research efforts are designed to offer solutions to the problems of sexual violence and victimization, according to Harris, associate dean for research and graduate programs of UMass Lowell’s College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

“The NIJ has increasingly evaluated research proposals based on their capacity to inform policy and practice,” said Harris. “Although our projects are varied in their focus, they are similar in their potential for application. These are not merely academic exercises; they are driven by our commitment to generating knowledge that will make a difference and enhance the safety of our society.”

“The selection of UMass Lowell faculty research projects for NIJ funding reflects the university’s growing reputation as an innovator and leader in criminal justice research and the expertise of our faculty researchers,” said Luis Falcon, dean of the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.