As a research centre, we are proud to host a fantastic team specialising in sexual and domestic violence and abuse and their impacts on health. What better way to mark this year’s International Women’s Day than to focus on the work of an outstanding member of the team, Dr Alison Gregory, whose recent investigations have focused on the role of friends, family, neighbours and colleagues (informal supporters) in the lives of domestic abuse survivors.
In this Q&A, Alison reflects on the challenges of working on a sensitive topic with a vulnerable population group, made all the more critical during this time of pandemic and the ‘shadow’ pandemic, which has seen rates of domestic abuse soar globally.
Your research activities have focused on Covid-19 recently. Could you tell us a little more?
I’ve been researching the role of friends, family members, neighbours, and colleagues (informal supporters) in the lives of domestic abuse survivors for the past decade. Because I was already in the middle of interviews with informal supporters when the pandemic began, I was able to adapt my questions, exploring how COVID-19, and the associated social restrictions, have changed situations of domestic abuse and how it affects the way people are able to offer support.
What have been the biggest challenges or triumphs for you during the pandemic?
As a domestic abuse researcher, the boundaries you put in between work and home life are important – your world view is changed by the research you do, and it is important to create separation between other people’s traumatic experiences and your own life. Working from home has somewhat blurred this distinction, and I’ve had to find creative ways to retain a sense of wellbeing.
What is it like being a woman in academia? Have there been times when you have either faced inequality or had to challenge it?
For me, working in academia, doesn’t always feel like a good fit. The primary drivers for many academics appear to be reputational and financial, but as a female academic, and perhaps particularly because of my research field, I’m far more interested in making a difference in the lives of real people – challenging injustices, preventing people from being hurt, and supporting them when they are. I think the yardstick by which academics are measured is changing, with more of a lean towards real-world impact, but the changes are slow, so it’s easy to feel that your work is under-valued.
Which women have inspired you in your career?
The woman who has inspired me most is Maya Angelou, not to become an academic per se, but to persist in the face of adversity, to believe that I can be anything I want to be, and to be active in challenging discrimination when I see or experience it, even if that means I will be viewed by some as troublesome or challenging!
Within academia, I am continually inspired by my PhD supervisor and colleague Dr Emma Williamson. Emma manages to balance years of expertise with a humility rarely seen in senior academics. She is proactive in her encouragement of other women in their careers, and is so very kind with it. A rare combination.
What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?
I’ve been reading Invisible Women recently, and there have been so many ‘Oh yeah’ moments where I’ve gained yet another understanding about why it feels the way it does to be a woman in this world. I wish I’d understood at 13 that the reason the world didn’t feel like it fitted, was because it didn’t! So much of our world has been ‘designed’ to fit men as a default, often unintentionally, but this makes women and girls feel like they are the ones out of place, rather than there being design faults. I really wish I’d appreciated this earlier!
What are you most proud of?
Having the opportunity to research gender-based violence feels like an immense privilege. I feel very fortunate that people let me into their world, their experiences, and their pain. So, perhaps what makes me feel proud is that I’ve been able to work in this field for as long as I have; that members of the public continue to see the value and engage with my work, and that I’ve managed to remain emotionally well despite the toll the research sometimes takes. It’s hard at times to be immersed in this work, but the knowledge that we are creating solutions together really helps.
Alison Gregory is a research fellow in the Centre for Academic Primary Care at the University of Bristol. Alison has a specialist interest in the resultant trauma from domestic and sexual violence and abuse. Alison is a mixed-methods researcher with a strong commitment to knowledge exchange and research impact and works closely with related expert organisations.
Read more about women at Bristol University who are helping lead the fight against COVID-19.