It could be her passion to root for the underdog, or growing
up in a family of attorneys that led Forest student Shawna Baron to do her
dissertation on something many find unspeakable.
Her topic was "Inmate Attitudes Towards Prison Rape,” one the
American Psychological Association:
Division 18 is giving her top honors for.
Baron recently learned she was the recipient of the 2011
Outstanding Dissertation Award in Criminal Justice, which will be presented at the annual APA
conference in August.
"It’s such an honor because my peer Shannon Griswold nominated
me for it,” said Baron. "Not only was I
nominated by a peer, but my work was reviewed by other peers in my field, who
have been working in this field for a long time.”
Baron said while prison rape is something she wanted to
research, it wasn’t necessarily easy to start the process.
"I was nervous about bringing it up
because it’s such a taboo subject.
Nobody wants to talk about rape, especially in a prison setting,” she
But Baron said talking to inmates about such a personal
experience was humbling.
"It was the first time anyone had ever asked them anything
regarding this, and a lot of people came out for the first time and talked
about it. That was a huge deal for me,
feeling like it was a breakthrough,” said Baron.
Most of Baron’s research was done in the Greene County Jail,
where she says administrators were very interested in what she learned. She says Dr. Brad Powers also helped her push
"We encourage them to take on the tough topics," said Dr. Powers. "We encourage them that if they are going to
work in these environments then they want to be experts in these particular
topics. Being an expert in a certain
area can sell you much better as a clinician, than having just general clinical
In working on her dissertation, Baron said one of the things
she wanted to know was how an inmate views a prison rape perpetrator and
what he thinks a victim looks like. She
said that painted a new picture about victimization.
"No matter what type of crime this person committed there is
a story behind that. Regardless of the
crime, if he’s serving his time he may be punished twice; once for his crime
and then once being raped,” said Baron.
She said her biggest goal is removing the cliches many associate with prison rape.
"Really the only publicity prison rape has is this notion of "don’t drop
the soap.” That is not funny to me, and
it’s not funny to prisoners who have experienced this,” said Baron. "It’s my mission to have the lay person
educated about this so it’s not so taboo.”
Baron leaves for her internship in Miami, Florida in
August where she will be working with inmates who were deemed incompetent to
stand trial or insane at the time of the offense.