Outlook: Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine

Fall 2020

Research with Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence during COVID-19: Strategies, Ethical and Safety Considerations

Bushra Sabri, PhD‚úČ; Violence and Trauma SIG Co-Chair

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a significant global public health concern, with the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating conditions for women in abusive relationships. Therefore, there is need for research and interventions focusing on preventing IPV and supporting IPV survivors during the pandemic. Remote communication for research has been implemented as the primary alternative to in-person interactions during the pandemic but have nonetheless been challenging. The challenges pertain to conducting safe and accurate data collection, guaranteeing privacy and confidentiality under quarantine conditions, providing care or referrals when there is limited availability and access to services for participants in immediate danger and overcoming safety, ethical and methodological challenges with recruitment or remote data collection.1, 2 Research3 shows that some of the best digital media through which to safely recruit IPV survivors remotely include Facebook groups, sponsored twitter posts for IPV survivors, zoom, IPV-related forums, Instagram, and radio/TV news. Other reported strategies are posting flyers in grocery stores, and recruiting through community-based organizations, places of worship and word of mouth.3

This article describes safety, ethical and methodological challenges that researchers may encounter in collecting data from IPV survivors during the pandemic and recommend strategies for remote data collection from survivors.

Safety, Ethical and Methodological Challenges in Communicating with Survivors for Research during the Pandemic:

  • Abusive partners being home where calling or texting is more heavily monitored, and in some cases, denied by the partner3
  • Difficulty in having a minimum 20-30-minute conversations, which is necessary to understand a survivor’s situation for research purposes3
  • Some survivors not being comfortable with virtual platforms or using phone services, either because of partner surveillance or because of the preference for personalized, face to face interaction3
  • Lack of access to technology or not having access to the internet, which makes digital communication difficult or unreliable3 
  • Even if digital communications are possible, abusive partners hacking into emails and phones3
  • Children being at home because of school-at-home and quarantine orders, so children may be present when a researcher or provider is in contact with survivors which can arouse fear and anxiety in the children if they overhear anything3
  • Too frequent phone calls or text messages can arouse suspicion in partner3

Recommendations for Remote Data Collection with Survivors

  • Scheduling a contact time when participants are alone to ensure privacy and confidentiality and providing quick exit options3
  • Using code words (e.g., calling from a health insurance company) for phone calls or text in case the abusive partner picks up instead of the intended participant. These code words can be developed with participants early in the research process and personalized for each participant. 3
  • For email contact, ensuring that survivors use their own email accounts and change password frequently to prevent abuser from knowing about their participation in an IPV-related study. 3
  • Developing referral mechanisms as well as adverse event protocols to ensure rapid response for survivors or data collectors in danger of immediate harm.1, 2
  • Having strategies in place to minimize distress for participants as well as the researchers such as virtual debriefs and built-in breaks.1
  • Training data collectors in trauma-informed data collection techniques and safety, and ethical considerations when working with survivors.  The key is to always ensure the safety of survivors.

Research with survivors of IPV calls for ethical and safety protocols for remote data collection especially during the pandemic because of multiple risks and vulnerabilities of survivors. This includes adapting methods when needed to ensure survivors’ safety and well-being.



  1. Guedes, A. Challenges in collecting violence data: Ethical, methodological and research priorities during COVID, based on conversation with experts. Presentation by The Nursing Network on Violence Against Women International
  2. Peterman, A., Bhatia, A., & Guedes, A. (2020). Remote data collection on violence against women during COVID-19: A conversation with experts on ethics, measurement & research priorities (Part 1). Accessed from https://reliefweb.int/report/world/remote-data-collection-violence-against-women-during-covid-19-conversation-experts
  3. Sabri, B. (2019-2024). An Adaptive Intervention to Improve Health, Safety and Empowerment Outcomes among Immigrant Women with Intimate Partner Violence Experience (R01MD013863), 08/05/2019-02/29/2024, Sabri (PI). Funded by National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.