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Kerry Beckman Publishes Novel Research on Sexual Assault in Transgender Veterans

Kerry Beckman Publishes Novel Research on Sexual Assault in Transgender Veterans

Third-year Health Services PhD student Kerry Beckman, MPH has first-authored a new article on military sexual assault in transgender veterans, published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress in April 2018. Kerry’s co-authors include Health Services Adjunct Assistant Professor Dr. Keren Lehavot, among others.

For this study, Kerry used an online national survey of 221 transgender veterans to identify the prevalence of military sexual assault (MSA) and to assess its association with demographic characteristics, past history of sexual victimization, and stigma-related factors. She also evaluated the association between MSA and several mental and behavioral health problems. The study revealed that overall, 17.2% of transgender veterans experienced MSA, but rates differed significantly between transgender women (15.2%) and transgender men (30.0%). Using adjusted regression models, MSA was associated with adult sexual assault prior to military service, and distal minority stress (experiencing gender-identity-related prejudice and discrimination) during military service. MSA was also associated with past-month posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptom severity; current depression symptom severity; and past-year drug use. 

Says Kerry, “These findings are significant because they show that transgender veterans have experienced a multitude of traumatic experiences, both prior to and during their military service. The transgender women in our survey, who were serving in the military as men, had startlingly high rates of MSA compared to the stated rate of 1% in cisgender men.   Additionally, for this population, experiencing sexual assault is associated with PTSD, depression, and drug use – sometimes many years after their service ends.”

Kerry emphasizes, “All individuals who have served this country deserve the best quality of care, regardless of their gender identity. However, because transgender people in the military have been forced to keep their gender identity a secret, their experiences are poorly understood. There are still many people who don’t know that there are (and always have been!) transgender people in the military. We can improve the quality of care that we provide transgender folks by furthering our understanding of the challenges and traumas that they have been through during their military service.”

Looking back on her academic and professional journey, Kerry says, “I’ve been interested in social determinants research for as long as I can remember – since before I knew what it was called. I became very interested in violence research, particularly in sexual and gender minorities, while I was interning at the CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention during the second year of my MPH at Emory. I chose to focus on sexual assault because it’s an unfortunately common experience, which people like to pretend doesn’t happen as often as it does, and I wanted to be able to deepen our understanding of an issue that has impacted so many.”

Emily WilliamsHSERV 514 Social Determinants of Health course has been very helpful to me in completing this research by exposing me to different theories of health, health care, and how experiences throughout the life course continue to impact health,” reflects Kerry, who is earning her PhD in Health Services with an Area of Emphasis in Health Behavior and Social Determinants of Health. “However, more than any one course, the interdisciplinary nature of this degree program has really encouraged me to seek mentors in diverse fields, and to apply the things I’m learning around the University to my work in health services. Emily was also instrumental in connecting me with Keren Lehavot, given our shared interests in mental health research with women and underserved populations. I developed this project with Keren’s guidance, and am now her research assistant, and she’s the Chair of my dissertation committee.” 

After earning her doctorate, Kerry’s goal is to continue research into the social determinants of mental health with a focus on underserved and understudied populations. Says Kerry, “Ultimately, I hope to contribute substantially to the literature in a way that has a significant positive influence on peoples’ lives and mental health.”

To learn more about Kerry’s work, check out her publication: 

Beckman, K., Shipherd, J., Simpson, T., & Lehavot, K. (2018). Military sexual assault in transgender veterans: Results from a nationwide survey. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 00, 1–10. DOI: 10.1002/jts.22280