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NSU, Yale faculty collaborating on research with male survivors of sexual abuse

Research funded by a grant from nonprofit PCORI

For over 20 years, the online community MaleSurvivor has been a support outlet for male sexual and gender minority survivors of sexual abuse/assault. Now, members of that community are collaborating in grant-funded research with faculty from NSU’s College of Psychology and Yale University’s School of Medicine.

Amy Ellis“I’m really passionate and interested in working with sexual and gender minorities and noticing that there’s a whole span of issues that are going on and we’re not seeing in therapy,” said Assistant Clinical Professor Amy Ellis, Ph.D., of NSU’s College of Psychology.

Societal stigmas and outdated stereotypes that men cannot be raped or that sexual assault changes sexual orientation create barriers for men seeking treatment. Ellis noted that on average, male survivors take 25 years to disclose sexual abuse.

“You have that stigmatization that leads to shame and guilt and even questioning the reality of your own experiences,” Ellis said. “If the entire world is telling you that something can’t be and wasn’t, then why would you step forward and say that it is?”

Now, peer online motivational interviewing for abuse survivors is the subject of a $1.3 million grant from the nonprofit Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, or PCORI. The principal investigator is Joan Cook, Ph.D., an associate professor at Yale, collaborating with Ellis and MaleSurvivor.

The groundwork for a partnership with MaleSurvivor was already laid due to the fact that the Trauma Resolution Integration Program (TRIP), a clinic at NSU’s Psychology Services Center, answers the help desk emails for MaleSurvivor. In contrast to traditional research, Ellis said the project is taking a community-based participatory approach, where focus groups and an advisory board have informed every aspect of the process. Ellis said this approach creates comfort and trust, compared to the stereotype of researchers in lab coats.

As part of the project, 20 peer leaders from within the MaleSurvivor community received training on leading motivational interview groups with other survivors. The project will recruit 344 survivors who will be divided into 42 groups and participate for three years. Participants will be involved in six session interventions for 90 minutes each.

“We’re really looking to increase treatment engagement and decrease depression,” Ellis said.

Ellis hopes the culmination of the project will lead to more resources being available for survivors and decreased stigma in seeking out treatment.

“These are individuals who have been suffering in silence,” she said.

Outside of the grant project, Ellis works as Assistant Director of TRIP. A graduate of NSU’s Clinical Psychology program, she worked at TRIP for a practicum.

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