Summer Young, a student working toward a career as a prosecutor, was intrigued by the title of a criminal justice class at Cal State Fullerton: “Sex, Crime and Culture.”
“This is a topic that many tend to shy away from,” said Young, who took the course over the summer. “There are too many stereotypes that cloud our judgment of what a person who sexually perpetrates looks and acts like.”
The course is led by Alissa Ackerman, an assistant professor of criminal justice and sex crimes researcher who has been teaching the subject for nearly 10 years. To give students a balanced perspective, she invites several guest speakers to the class to share their personal and professional insights.
“Speakers run the gamut from survivor to prosecutor to perpetrator to treatment provider — you name it and they’re coming into this class,” said Ackerman. “What I tell students from day one is that at the end of the day, regardless of what I present, they have to make their own decisions and they have to come up with their own opinions.”
“As the course unfolds, you begin to understand situations from eye-opening perspectives,” said Mitchell Fruto, a psychology and criminal justice double major who plans to pursue a career in forensic psychology. “Dr. Ackerman is known for her discussion-based classes, where all types of voices are heard and put into context. She provides a safe space for students to discuss difficulties in relation to the criminal justice system.”
Ackerman, who has written extensively on sex offender policy and practice, believes current policies do little to help rehabilitate people who have offended and to help people who have experienced sexual violence.
“Our policies are very reactionary; they don’t really do anything to prevent these crimes from happening and they take the person who’s been harmed right out of the equation,” said Ackerman.
She is a proponent of restorative justice, a framework that focuses on the harm caused by sexual abuse, harassment or violence rather than the criminal statute. “No matter what somebody has done, no matter what somebody has experienced, their voice is important in understanding why it happens and what survivors need,” said Ackerman.