Experiencing Moral Distress Within the Intimate Partner Violence & Sexual Assault Workforce

Rachel J. Voth Schrag, Sophia Fantus, Sarah Leat, Saltanat Childress, Leila Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Purpose: Moral distress (MD) refers to the psychological disequilibrium that emerges when institutional policies and/or practices conflict with an individual’s professional values and ethics. MD has been interrogated frequently in health care and ancillary medical settings, and has been identified as a critical barrier to enhanced organizational climate and patient care. However, little work has investigated experiences of MD among members of the intimate partner violence (IPV) and sexual violence (SV) workforce. Methods: This study investigates MD in a sample of IPV and SV service providers via secondary analysis of 33 qualitative interviews conducted with service providers in the summer and fall of 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic response was unfolding. Results: Qualitative content analysis revealed multiple overlapping vectors of MD experienced by IPV and SV service providers related to institutional resource constraints, providers working beyond their capacity and/or competency, shifting responsibilities within service agencies creating burdens among staff; and breakdowns in communication. Impacts of these experiences at individual, organizational, and client levels were identified by participants. Conculsions: The study uncovers the need for further investigation of MD as a framework within the IPV/SV field, as well as potential lessons from similar service settings which could support IPV and SV agencies in addressing staff experiences of MD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Family Violence
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • Intimate partner violence
  • Moral Distress
  • Occupational stress
  • Sexual violence
  • Workforce issues

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Law


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