A model of non-extractive research of technology-facilitated gender-based violence

Using research to enable and transform interactions with survivors

Naomi Alexander Naidoo
Published in
7 min readJul 1, 2021


Chayn and End Cyber Abuse have partnered on Orbits — a joint adventure to create a field guide on survivor-centred, intersectional interventions to end technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TGBV). Part of this guide will focus on research, exploring how we can create research environments which are trauma-informed, non-extractive and take account of the full complexity and diversity of survivor experiences.

There’s no dearth of research on gender-based violence. Early records go all the way back to the time of the beginning of the field of psychology. Though research methods have changed over time, ethical considerations about how trauma is studied, believed, portrayed and extrapolated into findings is highly relevant for today too.

As product and policy design worlds move towards more robust, evidence-based models, the need for user research has become more evident. Many funders require organisations to validate their hypothesis about user behaviour with research methods such as surveys, interviews and personas.

At Chayn, we are encouraged by this approach but find that extractive practices remain a concern. When survivor insights are treated like an asset but their own agency in the process isn’t, it’s extractive. When interviews force survivors to disclose trauma in gory detail when there is no need for it, it’s extractive. When survivors are consulted but have no idea of why and how their experience will be used, it’s extractive. When questions aren’t asked with the understanding that trauma might elicit leading responses, it’s extractive. When language, culture, race, disability and other characteristics aren’t considered even when survivors mention it, it’s extractive. When survivors are asked for their opinion but the end product remains unchanged, it’s extractive. When consent is assumed and not explained and asked, it’s extractive.

The list can go on.

There is a lot in our control as researchers to design settings and processes that are non-extractive, affirming and enabling. In our experience, most survivors are eager to participate in research because they’ve had a history of not being listened to, believed and wouldn’t want anyone else to experience that. This places a lot of power and trust in the hands of researchers. Just because we can ask something shouldn’t mean we have to. Just because we can record audio doesn’t mean we should hold on to it for years. Reducing risk of retraumatization is the responsibility of the researcher — not the interviewee.

Through the Orbits research, we have interviewed other practitioners about their experiences of taking part in extractive research and what steps they have taken to counter that in their own work. We’ll be sharing it as the project progresses.

A way forward

Here are the principles that shape the way we do research at Chayn. Our proposal is to make space for complexity of human experience in all facets of research. Though the purpose of research might be prevention, mitigation or healing — it can be daunting to consider how the process itself might lead to that. Instead of placing the expectation of providing a space for catharsis or healing in research settings, consider it a bus stop on a long journey that may or may not end. While the destination is aspirational and may be achievable for some, it’s the interactions on the way with nature, people and places that may give shelter, motivation, friendship and hope to a weary traveller.

Research into gender-based violence is trauma-inducing. It’s hard, not just on the survivor but also on the researcher. We want to create room for personal, and collective reflection and healing without forcing it.

Trauma-informed research is not at odds with comparative or quantitative approaches but complimentary to them. With some groups, a qualitative approach might be better suited — be it receiving interview responses via a series of voice notes on a messaging app, or asking a question in a social media group where there is already trust built up, or observing natural behaviour during an activity. These techniques would add more texture and grit to a smooth quantitative approach, filling in the gaps that would have otherwise remained vacant.


Below, we lay out different applications of our trauma-informed design principles for research purposes. Though we focus on gender-based violence, these principles can be applied to any research setting with a vulnerable group.

Chayn’s Trauma-Informed Design Principles


Prioritising the physical and emotional safety of users. More critical when users have been denied this safety at many points in their lives.

Research applications:

  • Ensuring survivors who are living with abusive partners are given a chance to find alternate methods of communicating with researchers for instance outlining times and days it is safe to contact them
  • Not publishing details or pictures of research participants without express consent. This can be a real issue for those who are being stalked.
  • Referral pathways to connect to services that can benefit them.
  • Having an onsite therapist or organising a post-research session.


Building trust with transparent, clear and consistent communication and design. Trauma survivors have often lived through internal and external unpredictability.

Research applications:

  • Being upfront about what is known and not known about a subject. For instance, if you are consulting with survivors with disabilities then telling them that you have not done this work before might prepare them for your style of research (though all care must be taken to design respectful processes).
  • Informed consent. Explaining to the participants in their mother language how their information will be used, credited and at what point they can refuse to take part.


Embracing complexity in human experiences. Suspend assumptions about what a user might want or need and thus account for selection and confirmation bias.

Research applications:

  • It’s important to not ask leading questions based on perceived challenges. This can be racist and discriminatory. For instance, rather than asking someone whether they were forcibly married because you know that might be an issue in a community, consider asking about how they got married.
  • Leaving room in interviews for survivors to tell you what they want to share about the interview process, their experience of trauma or anything else would give you insight into someone’s life that you might have missed in structured questions.


Abuse, inequalities and oppression strip people of agency. Users and survivors of abuse should be a critical component to their own path to wellbeing, not silenced.

Research applications:

  • Giving survivors a range of options for contributing to a piece of research and the ability to skip part of an exercise if it is too much.
  • Within participatory research settings, let survivors choose what level of leadership space they want to take up and don’t force them into it though light encouragement is important because many abusers undermine the self-confidence of victims.

Open and accountable

Banishing the spectacle of perfection-performance and embracing the risk of failure that comes with holding uncertainty as dear and openly as knowledge.

Research applications:

  • Where possible, re-use older research to decrease the amount of invasive questions you need to ask. So much research is replicated and thus survivors are exposed to intrusive, retraumatizing questions.
  • Many researchers assume giving gift vouchers is a “safer” option but for whom? Survivors may not find an item within that budget, and money may have paid for essentials like food and travel. Giving monetary compensation can be easier for survivors unless they prefer gift vouchers.


There is no single-issue human, therefore all of our interventions need to be designed with that in mind.

Research applications:

  • When people mention their challenges outside of your focus area, let them talk. Talking can be cathartic and if you can, connect them to appropriate support afterwards.
  • Do not give people Christian names to anonymise them. Choose culturally relevant names instead.


Empathetic, warm, and soothing design and narrative should feel like a virtual hug, motivating people to both ask for and embrace the help we can offer. It should validate their experience as we seek out collaborative solutions.

Research applications:

  • Create warm interview and workshop spaces so they feel less clinical. Many people can have negative experiences of clinical settings.
  • Make room for comfort by letting participants decide if they want to go for a walk or have tea before, during or after the interview. Or if group culture dictates something else — follow their lead.

Friction and privacy

We should remove unnecessary obstacles from users getting to the information and help they require, although some friction is necessary to protect user data and personal rights.

Research applications:

  • Deleting recordings of research after some time. Anonymised transcripts should be enough.
  • Give people the option of creating a name for themselves if there’s a group or public element to the engagement


People who come to our services are often in positions of pain or of trauma. They do not need to be reminded of it. Our virtual spaces need to feel like an oasis for users, not another place of stress, Othering or misunderstanding.

Research applications:

  • Using research interactions to tell participants about schemes that can help them, and even if they cannot help them, of people and stories that are changing the systems that oppress in other places.This could be something as simple as talking about shelters that also allow pets and children.
  • When conversations are heavy and about trauma, ending them abruptly isn’t ideal.

We’ll be exploring and developing these principles and their practical applications in research at a consultation workshop on 6 July. Find out more here, and stayed tuned as we refine and improve this model with our community and create a guide and toolkits for non-extractive, trauma-informed research.