In the Public Interest

What do our theory, research and clinical experience say about issues that profoundly affect our daily lives, our society and our world? How do we convey the vital knowledge we have on such issues?

APA’s Public Interest committees, task forces and offices are passionate in their efforts to collect and disseminate the critical research and knowledge that shed light on the problems facing society and to make a difference.

The Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls is one example. The task force grew out of a question posed by APA’s Committee on Women in Psychology: What is the impact of the sexualized images of girls frequently seen in magazines, other media and the culture?

The task force’s report was disseminated widely to the media and to the public, has informed public policy and has been used to support the work of allied groups and individuals. Work also continues on curricula and collaboration on a future summit.

“The response to this report has been phenomenal,” says Task Force Chair Eileen Zurbriggen, PhD. “Invariably, the conclusions of the report resonate with people’s own experiences, and they appreciate both the fact that APA formed a task force to draw attention to this issue, as well as the comprehensive information presented in the report.”

Several thousand copies of the report have been distributed to women’s research, education and policy centers and to individuals and organizations worldwide. Online, the report has attracted hundreds of thousands of hits and downloads.

However, the work of the Public Interest Government Relations Office and Women’s Programs Office did not stop with the report’s dissemination. The Public Interest Government Relations Office arranged for Dr. Zurbriggen to present the report’s findings at the 2008 Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference, and Dr. Zurbriggen and Public Interest Government Relations Office staff met with members of the Congressional Women’s Caucus, as well as with other caucuses and advocacy groups.

With the help of task force members and other experts, the Public Interest Government Relations Office also included language from the report in the Ending Health Disparities for LGBT Americans Act (H.R. 3001), which supports prevention of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections by countering the perpetuation of narrow gender roles, including the sexualization of female children, adolescents and adults.

Our Government Relations Office also founded an advocacy coalition to educate Congress on this issue. In March, Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) introduced the Healthy Media for Youth Act (H.R. 4925), largely based on the report’s recommendations. The legislation would provide youth empowerment and media literacy programs, support research on the effects of negative media images on youth and establish a group to create recommendations on positive media. Rep. Judy Chu, PhD (D-Calif.), is co-sponsoring the bill. “As a psychologist and member of Congress, I have the unique opportunity to address some of our nation’s most pressing policy issues,” says Dr. Chu. “We know that media images powerfully influence every person, particularly young ones. That is why it’s so important to understand and promote media that empowers our country’s youth.”

With APA’s Education Directorate and educators in the community, APA’s Women’s Programs Office is developing curricula and teaching materials for middle and high school students. Working in a coalition of 20 girl-focused organizations led by task force member Deborah Tolman, PhD, the office is also helping to plan the summit “Combating the Sexualized Images of Women and Girls in the Media” at Hunter College in New York City next month.

What can members do? Get involved in APA governance and task forces. Researchers are strongly encouraged to draw out policy implications from their research. Through APA’s Public Policy Advocacy Network you can sign up for action alerts and get involved in federal policy. To take a more active role, contact the office at (202) 336-6166.