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Ethical considerations

Ethical principles in monitoring of laws

Monitors should integrate ethical standards involving survivor safety and confidentiality into their procedures for monitoring legislation on violence against women.

Standards for ethical research on issues of violence against women include:

  • The safety of interviewees must be paramount.
  • Participation in research should be strictly voluntary.
  • All identities must be confidential, both in the interview process and in the subsequent report.
  • International human rights must be the foundation of the study.
  • Monitors should conduct relevant country research.
  • Interviewers should prepare an introduction to the study which outlines the purpose of the study and confidentiality procedures.
  • Monitors should be impartial, objective, accurate, and patient.
  • If survivors are interviewed, special considerations should be addressed. Privacy and safety must be paramount. Post-interview support services must be available upon request. See the following section on Ethical issues in interviewing survivors.

(See:  Putting Women First:  Ethical and Safety Recommendations for Research on Domestic Violence Against Women(2001); Perspectives and Standards for Good Practice in Data Collection on Violence against Women at European Level; and Researching  Violence Against Women:  A Practical Guide for Researchers and Activists, 2005)

Ethical issues in interviewing survivors

Survivors of violence can provide valuable information about how the law is being implemented. However, monitors must weigh carefully the benefits of obtaining an interview with a survivor with the risks to her of being interviewed; namely, the risks of severe physical harm, losing her job, losing her home, and losing custody of her children. Any or all of these may occur if an abuser or an abuser’s family finds out that a survivor has contributed information about her situation.

Valid information about survivor experiences may also be obtained from survivor advocates, attorneys, and medical and social services personnel. If monitors decide to interview survivors, monitors must follow strict ethical standards:

  • Interviews must be conducted in a safe and confidential, and completely private setting.
  • Informed consent must be obtained; that is, individuals should be informed of the purpose of the study and the nature of the questions which will be asked.
  • Monitors should interview only one woman per household, so that, for example, a female relative of an abuser may not communicate back to him about the nature of the study in which his wife participated.
  • Strict protocols must be followed in removing identifying markers from data before storage and publication.
  • Interviewers should be female, and trained in ethics and safety as well as question strategy.
  • Questionnaires should be carefully constructed to consider survivor emotions about incidents of violence.
  • Survey administrators should make post-survey support available upon request.

(See: Indicators on violence against women and state response)

For more information on safely interviewing survivors of violence, see: Researching Violence Against Women: A Practical Guide for Researchers and Activists, Chapter 2.

In Security Begins at Home: Research to Inform the First National Strategy and Action Plan against Domestic Violence in Kosovo (2008), monitors employed a number of measures to ensure an ethical approach: the survey team was taught to use a sensitive method of interviewing respondents to protect both their security and their well-being (p. 8); males surveyed males and females surveyed females;  confidentiality of records was a priority; and surveyors sought to maximize benefits to respondents, i.e. making sure that they received information about services. p.9

CASE STUDY: Violence Against Women: An International Perspective (2008)

This book compiles the results from an international, comparative survey which documents the experiences of women victims of violence. The authors interviewed over 23,000 women in nine countries: Australia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hong Kong, Mozambique, Philippines, Poland, and Switzerland. The survey combines the comparative methodology of the International Crime Victim Survey with the National Violence Against Women Survey first developed in Canada in 1993. It is the only comprehensive survey which takes a crime perspective as opposed to a health perspective. The objectives of the survey included building a centralized database for cross-country analysis and utilizing the data for policy making on violence against women, awareness-raising, and improving the response of both the criminal justice system and the social services sector.

The authors discussed the challenges inherent in the collection of data on violence against women, such as fear of the perpetrator, shame, and cultural attitudes. They noted that police statistics, often the only source available on prevalence of violence against women, are not reliable due to the under-reporting of the violence and other factors such as police discretion regarding charging of acts of violence and recording incidents.

The survey can be divided into 3 parts: The experience of violence, consequences of violence, and background information. All-female interviewers were trained in the dynamics of violence against women, safety issues for respondents and interviewers, how to present a nonjudgmental and nonbiased demeanor, and how to respond to emotional trauma. They conducted a combination of telephone and face-to-face interviews. Efforts were made to ensure privacy through flexibility in scheduling and locating the interviews.

The authors analyzed the prevalence and severity of the violence against women in the nine countries, the impact upon and consequences for the victims, and their experiences with the criminal justice system. They presented results on issues including the age, marital status, and socio-economic status of the victims. They also made several recommendations on ending violence against women, including holding offenders accountable and improving services to victims. The authors recommended that all sectors of society work together to eliminate this widespread problem.

See: International Violence Against Women Survey (2005) and Violence Against Women: An International Perspective (2008).

For resources on measuring different types of violence against women, see the section on Resources.