New framework to guide ethical engagement of victim survivors in co-production of research

Co-funded by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the University of Melbourne, the new Australian framework will also be used as the basis for consultation with victim survivor groups in other countries to develop location-specific standards.

“There is currently considerable interest in engaging people with lived-experience in family, domestic and sexual violence in the development of services, policies and research, however, there are no agreed standards, definitions or conceptual understandings to support researchers do this work in an ethical way,” said Katie Lamb, Research Fellow with the Safer Families Centre of Research Excellence.

The new framework was developed using co-design approaches by researchers Katie Lamb and Kelsey Hegarty in partnership with victim survivor co-researchers from the WEAVERs co-design team Lula Dembele, Fiona and Nina.

The framework draws on the experience of the WEAVERS, a group of women with lived-experience that was established in 2016 to show that engaging victim-survivors as co-researchers can be empowering and promote autonomy.

Co-researcher Fiona said: “Triggering should not be used as a weapon to exclude survivors from participation. Survivors are pretty good at knowing what they can and can’t do and we have all sorts of strategies and tools to help us, co-author and victim-survivor

Lula Dembele, co-author and survivor advocate, said: “Working ethically with victim-survivors of domestic, family, and sexual violence is critical to making research outcomes applicable in the real world,

“To do the work well and ensure that the research process empowers people with lived-experience, research institutions and researchers need to be willing and ready to share power, knowledge, and the benefits of producing research.”

According to Ms Dembele, research that seeks to prevent and reduce domestic, family and sexual violence should uplift and build the confidence of victim survivor co-researchers.

“Research organisations need to be careful their processes do not repeat or mirror behaviours of silencing and reducing victim-survivors’ agency as experienced in abusive relationships. If done ethically and supportively, opportunities to apply lived-experience in research participation can be a powerful tool of healing and rebuilding lives for victim-survivors,” Ms Dembele said.

The Australian Framework for the Ethical Co-Production of Research with Victim-Survivors is available at

Key messages from the framework include:

  • High quality co-design research teams are made up of people with a broad range of expertise whether it is professional or expertise by experience and all perspectives are valued.
  • Researchers need to be clear about where their project sits on the continuum of co-design and be highly transparent about the degree of influence victim-survivor co-researchers will have on the research process and outcomes.
  • Co-design research process should be developed with an understanding of trauma and with a shifted focus to how the process can add to healing rather than solely focusing on prevention of distress.
  • For victim-survivors to be equal partners and receive equitable benefits from co-design research and evaluations, research teams and funders need to adequately invest in training, support and career pathways for victim-survivor co-researchers.
  • It is vital that research funders ensure adequate resourcing and timelines to support genuine co-production, including research ideation with victim-survivors, and sustained relationships rather than short-term engagements.