Debra Patterson

Debra Patterson

Professor and Associate Dean of Academic and Faculty Affairs

(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 is a Professor and served as the interim B.S.W. Program Coordinator in 2017-18. Her research examines sexual assault victims/survivors’ barriers to help-seeking; culturally specific trauma-informed services; sexual assault nurse examiner programs; and improving professional and familial responses towards survivors of sexual and interpersonal violence. Her research also focuses on training attrition, knowledge attainment and retention, and competency development.

Dr. Patterson has expertise in qualitative research methods, interviewing vulnerable populations, and training and program evaluation. She also engages in community participatory research and mutually beneficial research-practitioner collaborations. Currently, she and LA VIDA of Southwest Detroit received funding from the Office on Violence against Women to examine the role of culturally specific services on Latina survivors’ wellbeing. Her NIJ-funded project evaluated the effectiveness of the International Association of Forensic Nurses sexual assault forensic examiner (SAFE) training that used an innovative blended learning approach.

Dr. Patterson received the 2010 Patron Award from the International Association of Forensic Nurses, the 2010 Turning Point Forensic Nurse Examiner Program Award for Outstanding Commitment to Improving the Care for Sexual Assault Survivors and the 2015 Wayne State University President's Awards for Excellence in Teaching. She also was named a distinguished chapter fellow of the Michigan Chapter of IAFN in 2017. She has been working in the violence against women field since 1996.

Click 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

  • Qualitative research
  • Social research
  • Social work methods of individual and group practice

Areas of Expertise


  • Sexual assault survivors barriers to seeking help
  • Culturally specific trauma-informed services
  • Sexual assault nurse examiner programs
  • Improving professional and familial responses towards survivors of sexual and interpersonal violence.
  • Training attrition, knowledge attainment and retention, and competency development


  • Qualitative research methods
  • Interview research with vulnerable populations
  • Community-based participatory research methods
  • Program evaluation

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


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 247

Courses Taught

  • SW 7040 Methods of Social Work Practice
  • SW 7055 Foundation Group Theory and Practice
  • SW9400 Qualitative Research Methods in Social Work

Grand Challenges Project

Helping Older Foster Youth Achieve Permanency With funding from Southfield, Michigan-based Spaulding for Children, Patterson, Associate Professor Stella Resko and University of Washington Assistant Professor Angelique Day are collaborating on a state-of-the-art training program for these parents with ChildTrauma Academy, The Center for Adoption Support and Education, and the North American Council on Adoptable Children. Patterson, Resko and Day have been

asked to identify the knowledge, skills and attitudes that resource parents need when caring for adolescents with severe behavioral health challenges. These competencies will be used to develop the curriculum for the training, the goal of which is to reduce foster parent turnover and increase the number of adoptive homes that are prepared to receive and provide permanency and stability to older foster youth. Learn more

Improving Help-Seeking Experiences Led by Patterson, the School of Social Work is working to improve survivors’ help-seeking experiences through research and evaluation at the national level. In 2012, Patterson, Associate Professor Stella Resko and the International Association of Forensic Nursing were awarded nearly $1.5 million by the National Institute of Justice to develop, administer and evaluate a blended online national training for sexual assault forensic examiner (SAFE) programs, which include specialized medical care and medical forensic exams by trained nurses and crisis intervention by skilled advocates, across the United States.

Most recently, Patterson is collaborating with Turning Point of Macomb County to evaluate the effectiveness of using mobile technology to meet the acute needs of survivors and studying help-seeking needs specific to Latinas with Resko and Southwest Detroit’s LA VIDA Partnership. For this community participatory research project, which has received $350,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women, Patterson and Resko will examine the formal and informal supports and strategies Latina survivors use to cope and evaluate whether LA VIDA’s culturally specific services meet their needs. Patterson will also be working over the next four years to remove systems-level barriers to help-seeking as a member of the Rutgers Violence Against Women Consortium, an interdisciplinary team of 13 core faculty and research scientists from across the nation who will identify gaps in the field of violence against women and implement research and evaluation projects to fill them. The consortium, which is supported by $5 million from the National Institute of Justice, seeks to elucidate the causes and consequences of sexual and intimate partner violence and improve the criminal justice system’s response. Learn more

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