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Virtual support and intimate partner violence (IPV): A knowledge synthesis report

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About the project

This knowledge synthesis project responds to a growing need to better understand how service providers support survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV) using virtual interventions. Intimate partner violence, encompassing coercive control and emotional, psychological, physical and/or sexual abuse by a current or former intimate or dating partner, is a prevalent, worldwide societal issue made worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. For service providers, this means an increase in service demand while simultaneously searching for ways to leverage technology to virtually connect with and support survivors of IPV. Service providers have quickly responded to these challenges by developing new virtual service procedures and protocols to ensure the safety of staff and service users. However, while virtual IPV interventions can provide necessary forms of support, there are concerns about their safety, cost and accessibility when IPV survivors may be even more closely monitored by abusive partners. For these reasons, it is essential for service providers to understand best practices in virtual IPV service delivery.

This project examines empirical research on virtual interventions to support survivors of IPV. The goal is to inform service providers of current evidence-based interventions, influence policy development in this area, and lead to further research on virtual IPV interventions.

A scoping review identified peer-reviewed, empirical studies (n = 25) of virtual interventions to support survivors of IPV. This review provides an overview of the current state of the evidence on the use of virtual interventions to support survivors of IPV, while also identifying gaps and areas for further research.

Key findings

The research findings below can be used by service providers, policy-makers and researchers when considering best practices in supporting survivors of IPV.

  • Technology has provided the opportunity for the creation of virtual IPV interventions to support women experiencing IPV, but barriers to accessing these interventions remain a concern (e.g., access to personal devices, reliable internet, comfort using technology).
  • There are several different empirically based virtual IPV interventions, including interactive internet-based, smartphone applications, live videoconferencing, and asynchronous virtual chatroom-like platforms.
  • Virtual IPV interventions can provide an effective option to incorporate into existing in-person models of service provision.
  • Relevant studies were found throughout a variety of journals related to the helping professions, indicating an awareness of the potential use of technology in IPV service provision among a range of disciplines.
  • More than half of the interventions had a main focus on safety, followed in frequency by interventions focusing on IPV treatment modalities (including those using motivational interviewing, psycho-education and psychological counseling techniques), with only a few support interventions focusing primarily on prevention and education.
  • Additional research is necessary, particularly in looking at the fit of virtual interventions with the diverse identities and needs of all survivors of IPV, including survivors of IPV identifying as disabled, racialized or of Indigenous background, as well as those living with financial insecurity and those living in a rural context.
  • There is a specific gap in research on virtual interventions with LGBTQ2S+ survivors of IPV, including a need to understand the experiences of non-binary, Two-Spirited, trans and gender-diverse populations.
  • Further research from a Canadian context is necessary to further understand the needs of IPV communities in implementing virtual interventions in Canadian settings.

Policy implications

  • Given the growing need for virtual interventions to support survivors of IPV, important next steps include policies to ensure equitable access to technology and the internet.
  • Funding should be allocated to support social service agencies providing IPV services with ways to provide access to technology to survivors of IPV (e.g., access to smartphones, internet hotspots, working with website designers to ensure safety and privacy).
  • In rural and remote areas, government investment in infrastructure is necessary to increase internet availability and safety for survivors of IPV.
  • To increase accessibility for those experiencing financial insecurity, the implementation of a foundation to support survivors of IPV requiring internet access and/or a personal device could help with access barriers.

Further information

Read the full report

Contact the researchers

Stephanie L. Baird, Assistant Professor, King’s University College, Western University; sbaird7@uwo.ca

Sarah Tarshis, Postdoctoral Fellow, Carleton University; sarah.tarshis@carleton.ca

The views expressed in this evidence brief are those of the authors and not those of SSHRC, NSERC, CIHR and the Government of Canada.

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