hero image
Heather McCauley - Michigan State University. East Lansing, MI, US

Heather McCauley Heather McCauley

Assistant Professor | Michigan State University


Heather McCauley is an expert in the prevention of sexual violence, intimate partner violence, and reproductive coercion.


Dr. Heather L. McCauley is a social epidemiologist and Assistant Professor in the College of Social Science at Michigan State University. Her research focuses on the social and structural determinants of sexual violence as targets of prevention. In her work, she centers the experiences of communities that experience marginalization (e.g. sexual and gender minorities). Her currently funded projects focus on homelessness among survivors of domestic violence, perceptions of justice among victims of crime, and violence victimization in the transgender community. Dr. McCauley has authored or co-authored 75 refereed journal publications and book chapters and has given more than 100 regional and national addresses on her work. At the national level, Dr. McCauley serves on grant review panels for the National Institute of Justice and the National Institutes of Health. She is Associate Editor of the multidisciplinary research journal Psychology of Violence. She serves on the Board of Trustees at St. Lawrence University. Dr. McCauley earned her MS in Global Health and ScD in Social Epidemiology from Harvard University. She completed postdoctoral training at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She was an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics & Psychiatry at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine before coming to Michigan State University in 2016.

Industry Expertise (5)


Writing and Editing

Program Development

Training and Development


Areas of Expertise (7)

Sexual Violence

Gender and Sexuality

Intimate Partner Violence

LGBTQ Studies

Public Health

Reproductive Coercion

Violence Prevention

Education (4)

University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine: Postdoc, Adolescent Health

Harvard University: Sc.D., Social Epidemiology

Harvard University: M.S., Global Health

St Lawrence University: B.A., Sociology

Affiliations (3)

  • MSU Research Consortium on Gender-Based Violence
  • MSU Center for Gender in Global Context
  • MSU College of Social Science

Journal Articles (5)

Trauma, Power, and Intimate Relationships Among Women in Prison

Violence Against Women

Heather L. McCauley, Fallon Richie, Sara Hughes, Jennifer E. Johnson, Caron Zlotnick, Rochelle K. Rosen, Wendee M. Wechsberg, & Caroline C. Kuo


The present study, which included four focus groups of women (n = 21) in four New England prisons, aimed to understand how power impacted women’s relationships, exposure to violence, and health. Women described power in three ways: (a) power as control over their sexuality and their sexual partners, (b) power emerging from emotional strength, and (c) power referring to a process of empowerment. Women’s perceptions and experiences of power were informed by their trauma histories and influenced their sexual behavior and health. Our findings provide a framework for considering incarcerated women’s experiences of power in trauma-informed interventions for this marginalized population.

view more

#MaybeHeDoesntHitYou: Social Media Underscore the Realities of Intimate Partner Violence

Journal of Women's Health

Heather L. McCauley, Amy E. Bonomi, Megan K. Maas, Katherine W. Bogen, & Teagen L. O'Malley


Public intimate partner violence (IPV) discourse emphasizes physical violence. In May 2016, the Twitter hashtag #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou generated a public conversation about abuse beyond physical IPV. Because of the often-disconnect between IPV research and what survivors struggle to name as abuse in their daily lives, we sought to understand how IPV discourse was unfolding as a result of the #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou hashtag. NCapture was used to collect publically available Twitter data containing the hashtag "#MaybeHeDoesntHitYou" from May 10, 2016 to May 17, 2016. Using the Duluth Power and Control Wheel (a range of tactics used by abusers to control and harm their partners) and the Women's Experience with Battering (WEB) framework (emotional and behavioral responses to being abused), we analyzed 1,229 original content tweets using qualitative content analysis. All dimensions of the Power and Control Wheel and five of six dimensions of the WEB framework were expressed via #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou; users did not express yearning for intimacy with their abusive partners. Users described one form of IPV not currently represented within the Power and Control Wheel-reproductive coercion (e.g., "#MaybeHeDoesntHitYou but he refuses to use condoms and forces you not to use contraception so you try to do it behind his back"). Two additional themes emerged; users challenged the gender pronoun of the hashtag, highlighting that abuse may happen with partners of all genders, and users provided social support for others (e.g., "#MaybeHeDoesntHitYou is real. Bruises and scars aren't the only measure of abuse! If this is you, help is there…"). Results from our study underscore the potential for social media platforms to be powerful agents for engaging public dialogue about the realities of IPV, as well as a space for seeking and providing social support about this critical women's health issue.

view more

#HowIWillChange: Engaging Men and Boys in the #MeToo Movement

Psychology of Men & Masculinity

Morgan E. PettyJohn, Finneran K. Muzzey, Megan K. Maas, & Heather L. McCauley


In response to the #MeToo movement, #HowIWillChange was intended to engage men and boys in the ongoing discussion about sexual violence by asking them to evaluate their role in sustaining rape culture. We collected publicly available tweets containing #HowIWillChange from Twitter’s application programming interface on October 26, 2017 via NCapture software, resulting in 3,182 tweets for analysis. Tweets were analyzed qualitatively and coded into three primary groups: (a) users committing to actively engage in dismantling rape culture, (b) users indignantly resistant to social change, and (c) users promoting hostile resistance to social change. Actions suggested by users for dismantling rape culture included the following: examining personal participation in toxic masculinity, teaching the next generation, calling out other men, listening to women’s experiences, and promoting egalitarianism. Users indignantly opposed to social change used the rhetoric of “not all men” and promoted benevolently sexist attitudes to assert that men as a group have been unfairly targeted. Other users were hostile toward the notion of social change and expressed their resistance through attacking perceived weaknesses of men supporting #HowIWillChange, hostile sexist attitudes, statements of antifeminist backlash, and rhetoric of Trump-inspired racism. The identified themes provide valuable information for prevention scientists about what holds men back from participating, and what men are willing to do to help.

view more

Sexual Assault Risk and Prevention in Sexual and Gender Minority Populations

Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Resistance

Heather L. McCauley, Robert W.S. Coulter, Katherine W. Bogen, & Emily F. Rothman


Sexual assault is a prevalent public health problem that differentially impacts sexual and gender minority (SGM) populations compared with their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts. Moreover, exposure to sexual assault confers numerous health consequences for survivors. Given the deleterious impacts of sexual assault and unique vulnerabilities faced by SGM populations, we review the research on the prevalence of sexual assault among sexual and gender minorities, discuss risk and protective factors for sexual assault related to sexual orientation and gender identity, and highlight gaps in the sexual violence prevention and intervention field for SGM populations.

view more

Prevalence of Past-Year Sexual Assault Victimization Among Undergraduate Students: Exploring Differences by and Intersections of Gender Identity, Sexual Identity, and Race/Ethnicity

Prevention Science

Robert W.S. Coulter, Christina Mair, Elizabeth Miller, John R. Blosnich, Derrick D. Matthews, & Heather L. McCauley


A critical step in developing sexual assault prevention and treatment is identifying groups at high risk for sexual assault. We explored the independent and interaction effects of sexual identity, gender identity, and race/ethnicity on past-year sexual assault among college students. From 2011 to 2013, 71,421 undergraduate students from 120 US post-secondary education institutions completed cross-sectional surveys. We fit multilevel logistic regression models to examine differences in past-year sexual assault. Compared to cisgender (i.e., non-transgender) men, cisgender women (adjusted odds ratios [AOR] = 2.47; 95% confidence interval [CI] 2.29, 2.68) and transgender people (AOR = 3.93; 95% CI 2.68, 5.76) had higher odds of sexual assault. Among cisgender people, gays/lesbians had higher odds of sexual assault than heterosexuals for men (AOR = 3.50; 95% CI 2.81, 4.35) but not for women (AOR = 1.13; 95% CI 0.87, 1.46). People unsure of their sexual identity had higher odds of sexual assault than heterosexuals, but effects were larger among cisgender men (AOR = 2.92; 95% CI 2.10, 4.08) than cisgender women (AOR = 1.68; 95% CI 1.40, 2.02). Bisexuals had higher odds of sexual assault than heterosexuals with similar magnitude among cisgender men (AOR = 3.19; 95% CI 2.37, 4.27) and women (AOR = 2.31; 95% CI 2.05, 2.60). Among transgender people, Blacks had higher odds of sexual assault than Whites (AOR = 8.26; 95% CI 1.09, 62.82). Predicted probabilities of sexual assault ranged from 2.6 (API cisgender men) to 57.7% (Black transgender people). Epidemiologic research and interventions should consider intersections of gender identity, sexual identity, and race/ethnicity to better tailor sexual assault prevention and treatment for college students.

view more