The Sexual Violence Researchers' Group actively explores contemporary research and policy/practice guidelines related to researchers' wellbeing (RWB), in order to strategise and enact changes that enhance the wellbeing of researchers studying sexual violence in the UK.
RWB is often overlooked, or receives inadequate attention, particularly for researchers who work in sensitive and potentially traumatic research areas. Given the emotionally challenging nature of such research, existing support services are frequently insufficient and lack specialised focus to address the unique needs of researchers in these areas.
ARU needs a dynamic RWB support system that is flexible and responsive to individual researchers' needs throughout the research journey. Taking care of our researchers' wellbeing is crucial to ensuring the resilience and good mental health and wellbeing of this section of the workforce.
It is an issue of emotional and psychological health and safety and therefore a responsibility within ARU’s duty of care, as well as unpinning our values. The culture surrounding wellbeing and conducting research in sensitive topics must normalise potential emotional and psychological harms, and proactively put in place strategies to mitigate these potential harms.
Formed in 2022, the SVRG has already achieved several of its initial objectives, and continues to actively pursue transformative measures to foster a cultural shift concerning RWB and establish a robust support framework for researchers exploring sensitive, potentially distressing subjects.
The SVRG is made up of ARU staff and external partners who are currently conducting, or have previously undertaken, research which is sensitive, disturbing, or potentially traumatic.Join us for the first in a series of webinars on researcher wellbeing – 29 February, 1-2pm
The SVRG is made up of several dedicated team members, who all help in making the necessary changes to improve RWB.
Dr Theresa Redmond, Senior Research Fellow, Policing Institute for the Eastern Region (PIER) – SVRG Chair
'I have a long and varied career working in social care, education and research with vulnerable groups, particularly children and young people at risk of/experiencing child sexual abuse and exploitation (CSAE), and victims/survivors of CSAE, all of which I see as gendered forms of sexual violence.
'Working in, and researching, sexual violence can impact mental health and wellbeing, something which is generally overlooked in research and academia.
'Like-minded researchers of sexual violence and I set up the SVRG as a way to change the existing culture regarding the impact of sensitive research topics on the researchers' wellbeing by raising awareness and developing better support.'
Abbie Lake, PhD Student, PIER – SVRG Research Assistant
'I'm a final year PhD Student. My area of research is sibling sexual abuse (SSA) disclosure, a topic which I find to be at times very emotionally challenging.
'As researchers, it is ingrained within us to consider the wellbeing of our participants, which is of course pivotal in conducting safe and meaningful research. However, the impact of sensitive research on our own wellbeing is often ignored or underestimated.
'Therefore, it is extremely important that changes are made to ensure that we as researchers consider our own wellbeing in sensitive research. I'm very proud and motivated to be a part of a group which is working towards making those changes.'
Abigail Wood, Research Fellow, Centre for Military Women's Research (CMWR) and Veterans and Families Institute for Military Social Research (VFI)
'I am a Research Fellow within the CMWR and VFI, working on projects exploring the needs of women in the military community.
'This work has included examining women's experience of military sexual violence, the impact on their mental health of sexual victimisation, and their experience of pursuing a sexual offence within the service justice system.
'Women's experience of military sexual violence is a repeated theme throughout the work of the CMWR, and its impact is often discussed in research projects with other focuses.
'This underscores the importance of proactively considering RWB to ensure researchers are well-prepared to manage their wellbeing and seek help if needed, regardless of the topic they set out to explore.'
Dr Lottie Herriott, Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Policing
'I am a Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Policing, teaching on a variety of topics around violence and abuse, including sexual and domestic violence, exploitation, and trafficking.
'My research interest centres around sexual violence, predominantly examining the criminal justice response to sexual offending in England and Wales as well as exploring victim-survivors' experiences of sexual violence in the UK military.
'Though I am extremely passionate about the value of this research, working on such sensitive topic areas can take a mental toll on us as researchers. I am both excited and proud to be a member of the SVRG and to be advocating for RWB support.'
Prof Tanya Horeck, Research Lead for Film, Media and Communication, Cambridge School of Creative Industries
'I have researched gender and sexual violence in the media for over 20 years now. I define myself as a film and feminist media studies scholar and activist.
'While my research has centred on depictions of sexual violence in film and media, more recently I have conducted collaborative empirical research into the topic of young people and technology-facilitated gender-based violence.
'I am passionate about my involvement with the SVRG and believe that it is imperative that we find ways to improve structures of care in academia (and indeed elsewhere). Lip service to such issues is not enough: it is essential that universities find ways to meaningfully rework their processes and structure.'
Dr Sarah Colley, Dawes Researcher, PIER
'I am passionate about RWB. I completed my PhD at the University of Hull in 2023 looking at multi-perpetrator child sexual exploitation (CSE). As you may imagine, the data was often very disturbing, with descriptions of the rape, sexual assault and torture of children across England and Wales.
'Following my own experiences of dealing with this type of data, I established a support group for postgraduate students at conducting emotionally demanding research at Hull, supported changes to the ethics process and organised an event to learn from others, such as Dr Michael Guerzoni, who has himself described the vicarious trauma of undertaking his PhD research.
'I have a background of working with the most vulnerable members of our society, including children experiencing sexual exploitation, and I currently volunteer with the NSPCC. Presently, I am working on a project at PIER which is researching self-generated child sexual abuse material with the Internet Watch Foundation, whilst helping to establish clinical supervision for our researchers.'
Prof Sam Lundrigan, Director, PIER
'As an Investigative Psychologist, I have spent the last 20 years researching the perpetrators of crimes of sexual violence including stranger rape, child sexual abuse and serial sexual murder. Researching the psychology of such offending has required immersion in difficult and sensitive written and visual material.
'As an early career researcher, there was little in the way of RWB support or recognition that researching traumatic events could impact negatively on a researcher. That is why I am so pleased to be part of this important University initiative.'
Dr Deanna Davy, Dawes Senior Research Fellow, PIER
'I have spent the last 10+ years researching trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation. The last 2+ years I have worked as a Senior Research Fellow at PIER, researching child sexual abuse and exploitation.
'I am passionate about RWB, having experienced first-hand the detrimental effects that difficult interviews and data analysis can have on researchers. I’m excited to be part of the SVRG and to be playing a role in prioritising researcher well-being at ARU and beyond.'
Ashley Perry, Postdoctoral Dawes Research Fellow, PIER
'I’m a Postdoctoral Dawes Research Fellow. My area of expertise is the intersection between culture and law in regard to sexual violence.
'A majority of my work is framed around research-based advocacy in the Irish sector. Specifically, I have engaged with victims/survivors of Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby Homes, the Repeal the 8th campaign, and the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre.
'Whilst working on a wide variety of gender-related issues, I have always been acutely aware of my commonality with the individuals I research and advocate for, which is that I am a woman. Many times, I have seen mirrored experiences or relatable themes appear in my research and advocacy that has made me reflect on my own life and how I navigate the world around me.
'As women working in this area of research, we are often confronted with our own vulnerabilities that many researchers who work on other areas of crime may never encounter. Thus, the line between us as individuals and as professionals can become blurred without an outlet to safely explore our research through a personal gaze.
'I am profoundly grateful to be a part of a ground-breaking group that is considering the wellbeing of female researchers in this area and its potential to strengthen the research we endeavour upon.'
Colleen Moore, Senior Lecturer in Criminology
After working as a researcher at Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology, Colleen joined ARU in 1999. Colleen’s work is broadly concerned with ‘justice’, and how it is perceived by people who have diminutive voices in public debates and legal responses, particularly women and girls.
Colleen has taught on a variety of modules, and focused her teaching in the areas of violence, sexual violence, the regulation of sex (prostitution, exploitation and pornography) and violence against women. Colleen’s research has involved exploring some of the ways in which women cope with the impact of sexual violence (especially those who do not officially report their experiences).
Colleen is currently examining the contexts through which silence and articulating that which is 'unspeakable' is embedded into women's lives, narratives and sexual scripts. Colleen’s previous research has examined the repositioning of female victims into one of a deviant, even criminal actor, especially when morals and sexual conduct are scrutinized; and sexual exploitation and trafficking.
In addition, her previous research has focused on the age of criminal responsibility; parole and the discretionary lifer process; young people and their treatment in the youth justice system; and community payback (formerly community service).
Georgia Ghai, Student Sexual Violence Advocate, Counselling and Wellbeing Services
'I am an accredited Sexual Violence Advocate with over three years' experience working with and advocating for the rights of survivors of sexual violence.
'I worked and trained at Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre, before moving to ARU to help set up the new Sexual Violence Support Service with Rosie Levine and provide advocacy support to ARU students. My and Rosie’s work on sexual violence at ARU was recently recognised by renowned sexual violence activist and author Laura Bates, in Red Magazine’s feature about future 'visionaries to watch'.
'Alongside this, I am completing an MA in Law, so that I can continue to find ways to fight for the rights of survivors in the future throughout the legal system. I also have an MA in Gender, Society and Representation from UCL, where my research focused on barriers to support facing survivors of domestic abuse who have South Asian heritage in the UK.
'Research is essential to the advocacy work that I do on a daily basis and to bringing about much needed change. However, sexual violence is a topic that can impact each and every one of us in far reaching ways and it is crucial that RWB is taken seriously to enable this important work to continue.
'I am looking forward to using my advocacy skills as a part of this pioneering group.'
Rosie Levine, Student Sexual Violence Advocate, Counselling and Wellbeing Services
'My passion for sexual violence activism began whilst producing a film at university that shone a light on child sexual abuse, which won three Royal Television Society Awards. In 2014, I began volunteering on a helpline, which was a confidential listening service for survivors of sexual violence.
'This led to my first full-time job in the sector as an accredited Children and Young People’s Independent Sexual Violence Advocate (ChISVA) at Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre, being promoted to Senior ChISVA after three years in the role. During my time as a ChISVA, I developed a passion for advocating for survivors who had been abused by a peer in education settings, and challenging the specific injustices that this leads to.
'In May 2021, I became the first person ARU hired to respond to sexual violence as both a Project Manager, and a Sexual Violence Advocate. I am now the ARU Sexual Violence Service Manager, which entails managing the advocacy service, continuing to support survivors, working with student activists, and working on ARU’s strategic projects including policy and trainings.
'I was recently chosen alongside Georgia Ghai by Laura Bates (creator of the Everyday Sexism Project, and renowned sexual violence activist and author) for Red Magazine's 'Visionaries to Watch' in recognition of the work we are jointly doing to combat sexual violence in Higher Education.
'I am excited to bring my frontline experience to collaborate with the amazing ARU research team.'
The PGR research proposal form now includes an inquiry into students' awareness of the potential impact their research may have on their wellbeing. Subsequently, this aspect will be revisited in the ethics application.
Explicit consideration of RWB has been added to the online ethics application process, with a specific question asking if the research is sensitive and/or potentially traumatic.
If the applicant answers ‘yes’, they are encouraged to complete an RWB template and submit this with ethics applications. Ethical approval will not be withheld if this is not done.
The SVRG recently carried out an online pilot survey aiming to investigate the impact on RWB when engaging with sensitive, potentially traumatic, or distressing materials or subjects.
This survey aimed to gather insights from researchers within the ARU community, informing a broader initiative to establish an adaptive support system for both staff and students exploring such sensitive areas.
The SVRG have developed informal peer support groups which provide a safe space for these researchers to come together to share their experiences of this work and any personal impacts it may have on them. In the first instance, the peer support groups will be open to ARU staff members and PGRs who research sexual violence.
PGR students who indicate that they will be delving into sensitive, disturbing, or potentially traumatic research areas will be provided with RWB training sessions. These sessions, presently under development, aim to equip students with the necessary preparation for undertaking such work and fostering reflective research practices.
The SVRG is also developing RWB training sessions aimed at all researchers, including those who are more experienced.
The SVRG is compiling a report outlining significant findings and trends from our pilot survey and identifying areas where RWB support can be improved. When finalised, findings and recommendations will be disseminated widely across ARU.
The SVRG is currently developing a webinar series, to commence in February 2024. These sessions will be open to all at ARU and will be an interactive presentation delivered by one or two members of the SVRG. Each session will cover an area of the presenters' expertise surrounding RWB.
The webinars will follow the journey of the research process and flag up areas where RWB may be impacted or need to be considered – for example, preparing for sensitive research, conducting sensitive research, analysis, and reflective practice. These sessions will be recorded and used as training materials.