Recognizing her important work in the area of women and gender, both the center for the study of women in society and the society for the psychology of women have awarded Alexis Adams-Clark a graduate student research grant. Alexis, a 5th year clinical student, is using the two grants to fund her longitudinal, mixed-methods study on sexual violence.
Working in Jennifer Freyd’s lab, Alexis is very familiar with Jennifer Freyd’s work on how contextual factors impact trauma. In her research, Dr. Freyd has found that having a more trusting relationship with the perpetrator leads to more complex and difficult outcomes. And on an institutional level, she has found that punishing reporters or failing to follow up on reports leads to secondary victimization. Building on this framework, Alexis is using longitudinal data to track mental health post exposure to campus sexual assault. She is planning to examine how contextual factors, like those described above, impact mental health during this period.
These two grants will help fund the qualitative portion of her research, which involves interviewing a subset of her sample about their experiences with institutional responsibility for preventing and responding to sexual assault. They will be asked about how effective the institutions are in intervention and prevention efforts, and what impact the institution’s actions (or inactions) have on victims. Although Alexis doesn’t have results yet, she expects that the data will show that contextual factors at multiple levels will have an impact on people’s mental health after being exposed to sexual violence. Both the reactions of their social network and messaging and responses from their institution could play a huge role in recovery from exposure.
This subject can be a very heavy one, but Alexis finds meaning in knowing that she can help people through her research. By sharing the voices of victims and survivors, she is chipping away at a dark problem. Alexis hopes that this research will raise awareness and validate the importance of contextual factors on the recovery process, since the focus of trauma research often focuses solely on individual factors. She also hopes to extend this research to provide recommendations to individuals on how to support people who have experienced sexual violence and to institutions on how to intervene and buffer the effects of institutional betrayal.