How to Do Field Research with Victims


Randomized control trials may be the gold standard for research, but field studies that include victims and police officers are delicate and “there are practical and ethical considerations that may exclude their use,” researchers write in this month’s edition of the the National Institute of Justice Journal.

The authors, Jill Theresa Messing, Jacquelyn Campbell and Janet Sullivan Wilson, discuss their study published in March 2014 of the Lethality Assessment Program (LAP), an intervention that occurs at the scene of a police-involved intimate partner violence incident.

The intervention “provides risk assessment, followed by advocacy services, for victim-survivors who are at high risk of being killed by their intimate partners,” but in designing their study the researchers realized a randomized control trial was impractical and potentially unethical.

To design and conduct this research study, we needed to balance the challenges of engaging in quasi-experimental field research against the requirements of a tightly controlled true experimental design. RCTs (Randomized Control Trials) have the benefit of controlling for extraneous variables within the design itself and are therefore considered the gold standard for knowing whether an intervention is effective. However, as we discussed above, RCTs require a highly controlled research environment that was neither practical nor desirable in this particular case, which highlights that there is not a single approach to effectiveness trials. To maintain the integrity of the LAP and meet the ethical imperatives of the researchers and community partners, a quasi-experimental design was necessary. Although this design opens the door to outside influences that could affect research outcomes, we believe that this pragmatic field trial provided the best possible information about the effectiveness of the LAP.

Their “quasi-experimental” study design ultimately involved asking police officers to refer victims to the researchers before the officers were trained in the new LAP method, in order to create a historical comparison group. After that group was established, the police officers received LAP training, and researchers were able to compare the two groups.

The evaluation ultimately found that the Lethality Assessment Program was able to aid women in achieving more protective strategies in the immediate aftermath of the intervention, as well as in the long-term. Those protective strategies included: seeking domestic violence services and removing or hiding their partners’ weapons, in the short-term, and applying for and receiving protection orders, “going someplace where their partners could not find them” in the long-term.

Read the full paper HERE.

Comments are closed.