Researcher trauma and safety in sexual violence research


A collaboration with the Sexual Violence Research Initiative, South Africa

Jan Coles1, Jill Astbury2 and Elizabeth Dartnall3

  1. Department of General Practice, Monash University
  2. Victoria University, Melbourne
  3. Gender and Health Research Unit, Medical Research Council, South Africa

Researching with sexual abuse survivors can be traumatic. Secondary traumatic stress or vicarious trauma is defined as the “transformation of the therapist’s or helper’s inner experience as a result of empathetic engagement with survivor clients and their trauma material”. Secondary traumatic stress is a process that impacts on different people in different ways. It is a pervasive feature of working with traumatised clients and is a cumulative response to traumatic material. Context and support for researchers varies across the world, for example lead investigator Jan Cole’s research is based in Melbourne, Australia with facilities and support for regular debriefing with expert trauma therapists, while internationally other researchers work in war zones and refugee camps without support. This project aims to better support researchers internationally by developing a briefing paper and safety guidelines.