RUB Research School

Neurobiological Correlates of Sexual Violence

The Research Project

Sexual violence is a devastating yet common public problem. One in five women and one in 71 men will be violated at some point in their lives [1]. Even though this problem is highly relevant, little is known about the clinical, psychological, and neurobiological underpinnings of sexual offenders against adult victims, particularly in those individuals that are unknown to the justice systems (so called dark field). However, it is important to understand the background of sexual violence from a perpetrator’s
perspective to improve primary prevention and to decrease the number of sexual offenses.
Therefore, I will assess clinical, behavioral and neurobiological variables in perpetrators who sexually offended against women. In order to provide profound assertions regarding alterations in sexual offenders, I will also examine a group of men who are “ at risk“ for sexual offenses against women (e.g. due to sexual phantasies or preferences) and a healthy control group. Both will serve as reference groups. Although sexual offenders are not exclusively male, I will focus on male perpetrators since the
majority of cases of sexual violence are committed by men [2].
The study encompasses a broad spectrum of measures, which are again based on recent theories and assumptions, previous findings, and known risk and resilience factors. In order to link neural (dys-)functions to known risk factors for (re-)offending, all participants will undergo the same diagnostic and
neuropsychological assessment using a comprehensive clinical interview, questionnaires as well as behavioral measures and brain imaging sessions, e.g. (functional) magnet resonance imaging ((f)MRI).

[1] Black MC, Basile KC, Smith SG, et al. National intimate partner and sexual violencesurvey 2010 summary report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2011. DOI:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199844654.013.0003.
[2] Breiding MJ, Smith SG, Basile KC, et al. Prevalence and characteristics of sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence victimization – National intimate partner and sexual violence survey, United States, 2011. MMWR Surveill Summ 2014; 63: 1–18

What I need the IRB for

As sexual violence is a fatal global problem, a holistic approach of understanding the underlying mechanisms and risk factors seems obligatory. Depending on their home country, people are exposed to a broad variety of influencing factors, which can have negative or protective effects. For the identification of those social, environmental and also cultural potential risk and protective factors, it is necessary to collect and compare data with researchers around the world. Thus, we will be able to find differences and commonalities and develop holistic theories, prevention- and intervention measures.

IRB funded activities

The 2024 Society for Social Neuroscience (S4SN) (25th March – 28th March 2024, Tsukuba Japan)

Thanks to the International Realization Budget (IRB), I had the privilege of attending my first-ever conference on social neuroscience held in Tsukuba, Japan. The conference venue buzzed with the exchange of ideas as I met fellow young researchers from around the world. Renowned experts shared insights into the intricate interplay between social behavior and neural mechanisms in animal and human models, illuminating the latest advancements in the field. Moreover, I was able to present the first results of my PhD project and engage in discussions that enriched my understanding and sparked new avenues of inquiry for my own work. Reflecting on my experience, I am grateful for this enriching opportunity. The knowledge gained and connections made at the conference undoubtedly fortify my journey as a researcher and will be highly beneficial for the progression of my PhD project.