In honor of Women’s History Month, UA Little Rock is featuring stories about the “Outstanding Women of UA Little Rock,” faculty, staff, students, and alumni who are serving as leaders and making a difference for the university and their communities.
Dr. Tusty ten Bensel, graduate coordinator and associate professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at UA Little Rock, is a firm believer in using her research to make positive changes in the world.
“One of my research areas is looking at sexual violence against women and children, both internationally and domestically,” she said. “My goal is to provide solid research on sexual victimization, offending patterns, and how we can reduce victimization from happening in the future. I hope my research paves the way to reform and sheds more light on what happens in our communities.”
Ten Bensel is a premier scholar specializing in violence and victimology in the criminal justice field with over 20 published articles in peer-reviewed journals, two books completed, and multiple grants.
One of the ways she is giving back is by organizing UA Little Rock’s “Take Back the Night” event on Wednesday, April 10. The event, which was held at UA Little Rock for the first time last year, is a nationwide effort to raise awareness of sexual violence and human trafficking. Statistically, college-aged women (18-24) are three times more likely to be victims of sexual violence, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN).
“The reason we do this event is to bring awareness of sexual assault on college campuses and the community,” ten Bensel said. “The more educated we are about sexual assault on our campus and the community, the more likely we are to reduce the amount of sexual assault that occurs in our state.”
She is a founding and current board member of Sex Offense Policy Research, a national organization that focuses on policy research in sexual offending and victimization. Additionally, ten Bensel is an active mentor who is involved with multiple research studies with students.
“My students are gathering data on end-of-life care in corrections and the life histories of violent female offenders,” she said. “I also have students who are working on identifying services available for victims of sexual violence in Arkansas, neighborhoods and reentry into society after being in the criminal justice system, and homeless LGBT youth and their experiences with victimization.”
In 2018, ten Bensel was awarded the College of Social Sciences and Communication Innovative Program award for the Juvenile Justice Mentoring Program. The mentoring program began years ago after criminal justice faculty members received a grant.
“When the funding dissipated, the program ended,” ten Bensel said. “I really liked the idea of our students learning how to work with and learn from different agencies and stakeholders in the juvenile justice community as well as being good role models for our youth who need that extra support.”
Ten Bensel restarted the program in 2017 with four pairs of mentors and mentees for both academic years. She’s added several educational and social components to the program. Mentors learn about the best practices in the juvenile justice system and meet with a variety of guest speakers, including judges, lawyers, guards, detectives, and community advocates. The mentees also learn about financial literacy, education opportunities, and employment preparation.
“We’ve also incorporated hands-on activities so the mentors and mentees stay bonded together,” she said. “We’ve gone to a Trojan basketball game, went bowling, and had a college day where the mentees shadowed their mentors at college all day. These kids come to campus and are unaware that they could go to college. It’s seems so unattainable to them. I hope it will help the mentees stay out of the criminal justice system. Even if we can pave the path of one mentee of going to college or getting a full-time job and staying off the streets, I think we have done our job.”
She is also the director of the Justice Research Policy Center at UA Little Rock. This summer research program, currently in its second year, provides an opportunity for criminal justice students in Arkansas to participate in a one-month intensive research course.
“Students learn how to conduct research step-by-step and work with criminal justice professors to collect and analyze data, write a research study, and present it on campus as well as at a regional or national conference,” ten Bensel said. “Students live in UA Little Rock’s dorms and receive a $2,000 stipend. All four of last year’s participants have joined or are about to join our criminal justice graduate program.”
Ten Bensel graduated from UA Little Rock with bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and criminal justice and a master’s degree in criminal justice. She received her Ph.D. in criminology and criminal justice from the University of Nebraska Omaha.
She is also a member of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, the American Society of Criminology, has completed the Women in Education Leadership program conducted by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and received the 2018 Educator of the Year award from the Single Parent Scholarship Foundation of Arkansas.
For women who are looking to work in the criminal justice field, ten Bensel offers the following advice.
“I would advise females to figure out what their passion is within criminal justice,” she said. “Doing research in criminal justice can be extremely difficult because we are going out into the field and talking to victims and offenders. It can take an emotional toll. I would find the one area you are dedicated to and see where that leads you. At the end of the day, I think that is what will keep you grounded.”