All interviewers for a survey on violence against women must be female.
Utilizing female interviewers increases disclosure of sensitive information, particularly experiences involving sexual victimization and violence perpetrated by male partners. Field supervisors must be female in face-to-face interviewing situations since they must travel with interviewers periodically to oversee their work. However, in forming teams of field workers, project managers must take into account local norms prohibiting women from working in public spaces, and other barriers female interviewers may face when approaching households to obtain an interview. In these situations, teams of male and female interviewers working in tandem have been shown to improve household contact, lower refusal rates, and be beneficial in ensuring the safety of female interviewers. In telephone situations, it is possible to have male supervisors if they do not have contact with respondents and if they have the required skills and training to further train interviewers and support them through regular debriefings.
Age is an important factor to consider when selecting interviewers.
Interviewers that are seen as too young may experience distrust from respondents, which can lead to outright refusal to participate in the survey or reluctance to disclose personal information. In some locations, it would be considered inappropriate for a young woman to pose questions related to violence to an older woman. While there is no recommended specific age limit or range applicable across all settings, many respondents perceive older female interviewers to instil more warmth and reassurance compared to younger women.
Other characteristics of interviewers that may affect participation and disclosure rates should be taken into account when selecting interviewers and during training. Particularly important in obtaining accurate information from the respondents are non-judgemental and empathetic attitudes, good interpersonal skills, and sensitivity and knowledge of gender issues and issues related to violence against women. These skills should be further developed through extensive training.
Training of interviewers is a crucial step in reducing bias in data collection.
Training is essential to ensure that interviewers understand the purpose of the survey and know the structure of the data collection instrument well; are skilled in conducting the interview and developing a rapport with the respondent; understand the ethical requirements of the survey, including confidentiality, safety and support for respondents; are aware of the possible dangers women face when responding to questions concerning their experiences of violence; are able to ensure the safety and emotional wellbeing of respondents; and guard the confidentiality of the information collected. All interview training should be in accordance with the guidelines for addressing ethical and safety issues in violence against women research established by the World Health Organization.
Sensitivity training is an important component of interviewers’ training.
Sensitivity refers to interviewers’ ability to pose very delicate questions about experiences of violence in a respectful manner, accurately assess the feelings or reactions of respondents in a variety of situations, and respond appropriately. Sensitivity training must facilitate the understanding of gender issues related to violence, the dynamics and causes of male violence against women, and the impacts of violence on women’s health and wellbeing. Training techniques can be used to reduce the chances that interviewers will respond with judgmental or blaming comments when interacting with respondents. Such techniques are: listening to and discussing in-depth testimonies of abused women and advocates for abused women; discussion of general or local stereotypes, prejudices and myths regarding female victims of violence; discussion of interviewers’ own biases and stereotypes concerning women who have experienced violence; and role plays. Role play scenarios are particularly important in preparing the interviewers for situations where women refuse to participate in the survey; or situations that may compromise the safety and wellbeing of respondents and the confidentiality of information (such as interruptions of the interview by other household members, including threatening husbands; or emotional reactions of respondents to the disclosure of experiences of violence).
Training in controlling the interviewing environment to ensure the safety and privacy of respondents and the confidentiality of the information disclosed
The potential that women may be put at risk of violence for participating in a survey cannot be underestimated. It is essential that respondents are in a position to answer freely and without fear of repercussions. As mentioned before, selecting only one female member of the household to be a respondent is one of the mechanisms used to ensure that women who have experienced violence from intimate partners or other family members are able to respond in a manner that will not jeopardize their safety. Other strategies oriented toward the safety and privacy of respondents should be developed by survey designers and covered in interviewers’ training. It is recommended that interviews should take place at a time when other household members, particularly male partners, are not present. Interviewers should be prepared to switch to a neutral questionnaire if a household member comes on the scene. In some contexts, it may be advisable for escorts accompanying the main interviewer to conduct interviews with other family members to distract them from the main focus of the survey. When the privacy of the respondent cannot be ensured, the interview should be re-scheduled. In telephone surveys, respondents should be offered a toll-free telephone number they can use if they have to hang up suddenly or want to continue the interview at another time. Interviewers can establish a safety plan with respondents so that respondents can stop an interview at any time they feel unsafe. Interviewers should also check in with respondents periodically during the interview to confirm that they are able to proceed.
Interviewers should be trained to identify and respond properly to respondents’ emotional trauma.
Given the personal and delicate nature of the information requested in surveys on violence against women, respondents can be expected to react in a wide range of ways. Some respondents may be open to disclosing their experiences and may view the survey as an opportunity to allow them to make their experiences known. Others, however, may be fearful that a violent partner might learn of their participation in the survey; feel disturbed by the content of the interview; be traumatized by recent experiences of violence; or feel embarrassed or stigmatized when disclosing their experiences. Interviewers should be trained how to react to this multitude of possible reactions. It is important that the reaction to emotional distress is in a warm, empathetic but neutral manner. Interviewers must be instructed not to counsel respondents themselves. They should be able to refer respondents to a list prepared in advance consisting of agencies in the local community who can provide assistance. Where few resources exist locally, the survey design may need to take into account the development of short-term support mechanisms.
Interviewers should be trained to identify their own emotional reactions and reduce their own stress.
In violence against women surveys, interviewers will be engaged in emotionally draining work. Interviewers should be trained to identify their own emotional reactions to the numerous disclosures about violence and helped to develop skills that manage and reduce their stress. Supervisors should also be trained to recognize emotional trauma among interviewers during fieldwork. Strategies to prevent burn-out should be considered, such as regular de-briefings by supervisors or counsellors specially engaged as part of the project team, or offering interviewers the chance to participate in less taxing administrative tasks between interviews.