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Investigation Reveals Sexual Assault of Adolescents in Federally Funded Research Study

An internal investigation has revealed why the $8.8 million Purdue University study was abruptly terminated earlier this year. 

Dec 4, 2017
Katarina Zimmer

Purdue University CampusISTOCK, PURDUE9394An investigation into a $8.8 million research study in adolescents at Purdue University that was terminated this summer has revealed more than 30 incidents of threats, violence, or sexual abuse amongst study participants.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the Journal & Courier. It was launched to assess the effects of a low sodium diet on blood pressure and cholesterol in adolescents. To do so it had recruited 78 children between the ages of 11 and 15 to take part in the four-week camp-like study at Purdue, known as Camp DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension).

The investigation, which was released yesterday (December 3), followed multiple incidents reported to the police in the first few weeks of the study. The allegations included possible molestations, and an incident where a study participant injured another with a hot sauna rock, according to the Journal & Courier. In separate cases, two participants were arrested during the first few weeks of the study and then dismissed, whilst another was sent to hospital due to a violent incident.

According to Undark Magazine, an investigation was launched by the university’s vice president for ethics and compliance, Alysa Rollock, after a video of one of the teenage girls showering was posted to social media by another study participant.  

An internal review report states that the principal investigator of the study, nutritionist Connie Weaver, knew about these cases but had failed to take action until well into the program, according to the Journal & Courier. She issued a statement earlier this week: “I accept responsibility for events that occurred at Camp DASH,” she wrote. “The safety and security of research participants always comes first.”

Based on police records and interviews with university staff and the families involved, an investigation by Undark Magazine concluded that the study had suffered from a lack of oversight as well as cost-cutting—participants had been housed in a non-air conditioned residence hall to save costs, for instance.

The remaining three years of the study have been canceled and all of the collected data will be discarded, according to Undark Magazine. Purdue’s Executive Vice president for Research and Partnerships Suresh Garimella tells the Journal & Courier about the incident: “We all kind of regret that the study couldn’t be done. . . . We will do our best to do better next time." 

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