Debra Patterson

Debra Patterson

Associate Professor and B.S.W. Coordinator

(313) 577-5942

Debra Patterson


Dr. Debra Patterson came to Wayne State University from Michigan State University, where she completed her doctoral degree in Community Psychology in 2008. She completed her M.S.W. in 1996 at Wayne State University and subsequently worked at a domestic and sexual violence agency for eight years as an advocate, therapist, and director. Dr. Patterson currently serves as the B.S.W. Program Coordinator and Associate Profession. Dr. Patterson's interests include sexual assault victims/survivors barriers to help-seeking; formal social systems responses to sexual assault survivors; community collaborative efforts in improving the response to sexual assault survivors; and the effectiveness of sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) programs. She teaches in the areas of interpersonal practice and research methods. Her research primarily involves archival and qualitative research to examine the social systems responses to sexual assault survivors. Dr. Patterson has expertise in qualitative research methods, interviewing vulnerable populations, and program evaluation. here to view Curriculum Vitae

Degrees and Certifications

  • Ph.D,, Michigan State University
  • M.A., Michigan State University
  • M.S.W., Wayne State University

Teaching Interests

  • Diversity, oppression, and social justice
  • Social research
  • Social work methods of practice

Areas of Expertise


  • Sexual assault survivors barriers to seeking help
  • Medical and criminal justice systems response to rape victims/survivors
  • Impact of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) programs on legal outcomes and victim/survivor emotional wellbeing
  • Collaborative relationships among medical, social service, and criminal justice systems


  • Qualitative research methods
  • Interview research with vulnerable populations
  • Archival research methods
  • Program evaluation

Research Project

Delivery and Evaluation of a SAFE Training Program

Role: Principal Investigator. This NIJ-funded project involves an evaluation of an online training program developed and implemented by the International Association of Forensic Nurses. The project will utilize online training to inform nurses in responding to sexual assault survivors using an empowerment approach. These trainings will also inform nurses on how to conduct medical forensic exams and how to document injuries with sexual assault survivors. This evaluation also seeks to examine the online training of nurses designed to help them develop the necessary skills in their practice and identify difficulties this population may have in learning or adopting such skills. This evaluation will investigate trainees skills after completing the program and determine the level of empowerment care they are able to provide survivors. This evaluation is cutting-edge and assesses the combination of online course work and a two-day workshop designed to reduce barriers to effective treatment for sexual assault survivors.

Understanding How Advocates Can Affect Victim Engagement in the Criminal Justice Process

Role: Principal Investigator. Sexual assault survivors often feel apprehensive about participating in the criminal justice system (CJS) and thus, few report their victimizations to law enforcement. Of those who report, many withdraw their participation from the CJS. Rape crisis center advocates often are one of the first professionals victims encounter while seeking help after a victimization and thus may play a key role in reducing barriers to victim participation in the CJS. The current study involves qualitative interviews with forensic nurses and victim advocates at a Midwest Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program to examine how advocacy services may influence victim engagement with the CJS. This study will provide data to begin understanding the multiple components of advocacy services that may address common barriers to victim participation.

Understanding Online Help-Seeking by Sexual Assault Survivors

Role: Principal Investigator. Many sexual assault survivors do not disclose their victimizations to informal or professional support because they fear receiving negative reactions (e.g., being blamed) (Starzynski, Ullman, Filipas, & Townsend, 2005). The Internet has become an increasingly popular form of communication and source of information among Americans. The literature suggests that many adults are seeking online information and support for many medical and mental health concerns, especially for conditions that involve stigma (Ziebland et al., 2004; Satterlund, et al., 2003). Given the anonymous nature of the Internet, it is likely that survivors are seeking online information and support as a mechanism to cope with their victimizations. However, there are no published studies examining if survivors are seeking information and support from the Internet. Furthermore, it remains unknown whether the Internet provides a helpful or hurtful experience for survivors seeking online help, and how those experiences relate to their emotional wellbeing. The current study aims to conduct an online survey to explore several key areas to understand who is seeking online help, the online needs of survivors, and the experiences of those seeking online help. This study will provide data to begin understanding if and how survivors utilize the Internet to cope with their victimizations. In addition, the knowledge gained from this study could be used to develop online interventions that are responsive to the needs of sexual assault survivors.

For further details on other research, see Center for Social Work Research:

Office Location

5447 Woodward Avenue, Rm 038

Courses Taught

SW 7040 Methods of Social Work Practice

SW 7055 Foundation Group Theory and Practice

SW9400 Qualitative Research Methods in Social Work

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