It was when working with survivors of sexual assault that Cat Munroe identified gaps in how these survivors are perceived by those working within the medical and criminal justice systems. Cat saw first-hand how people interacted with survivors and found approaches lacking an emotional connection. While volunteering as a victim advocate for sexual assault victims and years later, as a trainee providing clinical services to sexual assault survivors in a college counseling services, they witnessed how services for survivors of sexual violence were primarily developed for heterosexual women. While working at UCSF’s Trauma Recovery Center, they worked extensively with LGBTQ+ survivors of trauma—in Cat’s words: “the experience is different for queer folks.”
Such on-the-ground experiences became the catalyst for the direction and approach their research would take, eventually leading them here, to the postdoctorial fellowship at ARG—a joint program with the University of California, Berkeley.
“It has been a fascinating journey,” Cat said when asked what brought them to California after studying and working on the East Coast, first at Smith College where they received an AB in psychology then Miami University, graduating with a masters and PhD both in clinical psychology. “I hadn’t planned on studying trauma and alcohol use, but I feel so lucky to be here.”
Luck had little to do with it.
It was during an introductory psychology course at Smith, when they realized it is possible to study and understand human behavior that Cat’s passion for this work ignited. They were a research assistant at Brown on projects focusing on mood disorders, suicide and family functioning. While completing a clinical psychology training program at University of California, San Francisco, where they worked directly with people who have experienced trauma, in particular survivors of drug-facilitated sexual assault (DFSA), that they found their niche.
Alcohol is overwhelmingly the substance that incapacitates victims of DFSA—also called incapacitated rape—and may result in fragmented memory of the trauma due to the effects of alcohol on the victim’s body. The absence of cohesive memory also creates obstacles to treatment, since the majority of trauma therapies require trauma memory. Without explicit memory, many survivors and clinicians have difficulty finding a clear path forward. “What I learned from talking with survivors is that a different process is needed to help people who’ve experienced a drug-facilitated assault.”
They also noticed that sexual minority women were overrepresented in the group treatment designed for survivors of DFSA. Sexual minorities face even greater hurdles to healing, including stigma and further victimization, while also being entrenched in heterosexist systems of care.
Cat is currently working on their own research project, looking at care that sexual minority women receive following an incident of incapacitated rape and identifying existing disparities. Capturing survivor needs and experiences are paramount to ensuring they receive effective support. Cat collected qualitative data through participant interviews, including experiences related to alcohol use.
“From this work, I’m finding sexual minority women who are bound in this system of gendered norms have little social capital—often they are abandoned by their community or they end up remaining in their network in order to have social support yet the perpetrator may still be part of that same community. It’s because of this potential fallout, and the lack of appropriate care, that assaults often go unreported.”
Cat is also a co-investigator on a NIDA-funded study assessing sexual orientation differences and prevalence of substance use led by ARG senior scientist Karen Trocki and San Jose State professor and ARG affiliate scientist Laurie Drabble.
“For me, it seems obvious what we need to do to better support sexual minority assault survivors. However, enacting this kind of change is difficult. We need to listen to people—speak directly with survivors to find out what they need, to identify what the barriers are and how we should rethink and rebuild our approaches to care. And I hope that’s what my research will do.”
Learn More about Cat’s Research
Bochicchio, L. A., Drabble, L. A., Riggle, E. D. B., Munroe, C., Wootton, A. R., & Hughes, T. L. (2021). Understanding alcohol and marijuana use among sexual minority women during COVID-19: A descriptive phenomenological study. Journal of Homosexuality,68(4). 631-646. Read the abstract or full text.
Munroe, C. & Shumway, M. (2020). Female-perpetrated sexual violence: A survey of survivors of female-perpetrated childhood sexual abuse and adult sexual assault. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Advance online publication. Read the abstract or full text.
Munroe, C., Clerkin, E. M., & Kuvalanka, K. (2020). The impact of peer and family functioning on transgender and gender-diverse children’s mental health. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 29(7) 2080-2089. Read the abstract or full text.
Kuvalanka, K. A., Allen, S., Munroe, M. K., Goldberg, A. E., & Weiner, J. (2018). The experiences of sexual minority mothers with trans* children. Family Relations, 67(1), 70-87. Read the abstract or full text.
Kuvalanka, K. A., Weiner, J., Munroe, C., Goldberg, A. E., & Gardner, M. (2017). Trans and gender-nonconforming children and their caregivers: Gender presentations, peer relations, and well-being at baseline. Journal of Family Psychology,31(7), 889-899. Read the abstract or full text.
Weinstock, L. M., Melvin, C., Munroe, M. K., & Miller, I. W. (2016). Adjunctive behavioral activation for the treatment of bipolar depression: A proof of concept trial. Journal of Psychiatric Practice, 22(2), 149-158. Read the abstract or full text.
Weinstock, L. M., Wenze, S. J., Munroe, M. K., & Miller, I. W. (2013). Concordance between patient and family reports of family functioning in bipolar I disorder and major depressive disorder. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 201(5), 377-383. Read the abstract or full text.
Weinstock, L. M., Munroe, M. K., & Miller, I. W. (2011). Behavioral activation for the treatment of atypical depression: A pilot open trial. Behavior Modification, 35(4), 403-424. Read the abstract or full text.
About the Fellowship Program: ARG, in partnership with the School of Public Health at the University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley), offers a training program that provides support and training to both pre- and postdoctoral fellows engaged in alcohol- and drug-related research. Our program is funded by a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) grant titled “Graduate Research Training in Alcohol Problems: Alcohol-Related Disparities” (grant # T32AA007240), and has supported over 280 trainees since 1971.