Daily BulletinHoliday Centre

The Conversation

  • Written by Bianca Fileborn, Lecturer in Criminology, UNSW

Thirty-nine Australian universities will now individually release the findings of a national research project on sexual assault and harassment on campus.

The “Respect. Now. Always.” project, launched in February 2016, has involved two phases:

This announcement follows intense criticism from student bodies and sexual assault activists after it was initially announced that the findings for individual universities would not be made public.

The project has also faced considerable controversy over the submission process, which did not receive ethics approval before starting the research. The AHRC said this was because it was not required.

But the commission confirmed it did receive ethics approval for the survey component of the research.

Insufficient distinction between the two strands of the project, however, appears to have created confusion over whether correct ethics protocols have been followed – and over the nature of the research that participants were taking part in.

The project has also suffered from poor communication with participants. The AHRC has acknowledged that its use of the phrase “areas for action”, rather than “recommendations”, was confusing and misleading.

In response to this, journalist and anti-sexual assault advocate Nina Funnell commented in The Guardian:

They don’t have to get ethics approval, that is true, but they do have to treat survivors with respect and they haven’t.

Clearly, this case raises some substantial questions about what constitutes “ethical” research on sexual assault.

Why does it matter if research is ethical or not? And what steps could or should have been taken to ensure that issues such as those the AHRC now faces are avoided?

Research ethics 101

Ethics procedures are in place as a way to safeguard and protect research participants from harm, while ensuring that research has the potential to benefit the broader community.

In Australia, strict codes of conduct govern research involving human participants. These codes set out the responsibilities of individual researchers and the institutions they work for.

All research involving human participants is subject to review by a human research ethics committee. Researchers cannot start their work until approval has been granted.

Broadly speaking, ethical research is guided by the following principles:

Respect

  • All participants must be treated with respect for their rights and autonomy as human beings. This includes, for example, ensuring that they are informed as to what participation in research will involve, and what the potential risks are.

Merit

  • Research is methodologically sound and rigorous. Any potential benefits of a project are balanced carefully against the potential to cause harm.

Justice

  • The research does not disadvantage any particular segment of the community and the benefits of research are shared across the community.

Beneficence

  • Research should seek to benefit the community.

The ways in which these principles are achieved will, of course, vary depending upon the nature and goals of a specific research project.

image Sexual assault can be a difficult and sensitive topic to discuss. from www.shutterstock.com

Conducting research on sexual assault

Obtaining ethics approval and conducting research in an ethical manner is vital for all research involving human participants.

Research with sexual assault victim-survivors can present heightened ethical challenges. This means that research on this topic must be handled with particular skill, care and respect.

Although it is important not to generalise the experiences of victim-survivors, it is fair to say that sexual assault can be a difficult and sensitive topic to discuss with a researcher.

The potential for participants to experience harm or retraumatisation in sexual assault research is very real – although victim-survivors also report many benefits from participating in research.

This does not mean that we cannot or should not undertake research with sexual assault victim-survivors.

It does, however, mean that we need to have processes in place to support participants and minimise the likelihood that taking part in a project will cause them distress.

This potential for harm places a considerable onus on sexual violence researchers to ensure that our projects are designed with care and rigour to ensure that our participants’ contributions carry the weight and authority they deserve.

Poorly designed research has the potential to cause direct harm to victim-survivors – for example, it might underestimate the actual prevalence of sexual violence.

Sexual assault involves a loss of autonomy and control. Because of this, it is vital that our research aims to provide victim-survivors with control and choice over how they participate and what information they share.

A key aspect of affording participants control is communicating to them, prior to the research, how their contributions will be used and represented in research outputs, such as publications.

Victim-survivors often face the very real fear of being identified by their perpetrator and facing ramifications, as well as the stigma associated with experiencing sexual assault.

For these reasons, ensuring that participants cannot be identified, and that their responses are stored securely and confidentially, is of utmost importance.

Victim-survivors often participate in research out of a desire to help others. They share their experiences in the hope that doing so will contribute towards meaningful change, and ultimately prevent others from experiencing sexual violence.

Given this motivation, it is unsurprising that the AHRCs’ poor communication regarding whether recommendations will be made from the research has been a distressing one for some participants: it may undermine their very purpose in participating in the first place.

Negative encounters with research have the potential to undermine public trust and faith in research, and may contribute towards a reluctance to participate in the future.

Getting it right

How can we best ensure that all research with sexual assault victim-survivors engages in appropriate practices to protect and maintain participants’ rights and wellbeing, as well as the integrity of the research?

Best practice guidelines on sexual assault research include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • prioritising the safety and wellbeing of participants at all times

  • ensuring the research methodology is sound

  • ensuring all members of a research team have been extensively trained in undertaking research sensitively with victim-survivors, and are aware of relevant ethical issues

  • providing support, such as access to counselling, for victim-survivors both during and after their participation in the research

  • having procedures in place to minimise the potential for participant distress, and to support participants should they become distressed during the research

  • maintaining the confidentiality of participants’ contributions at all times

  • affording participants control over how and when they participate

  • ensuring that participants are fully informed about the nature of the research, and how their contributions will be used, prior to taking part.

If this article has raised any concerns for you, please seek support by calling 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732), www.1800respect.org.au

Authors: Bianca Fileborn, Lecturer in Criminology, UNSW

Read more http://theconversation.com/how-ethical-is-sexual-assault-research-75768

INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

The Conversation

Politics

Scott Morrison Virus Announcement

PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon. Keeping Australians safe - that is the priority of our Government as we deal with what has been an emerging situation with the coronavirus. Each and every day there a...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Closing the Gap Statement to Parliament

Mr Speaker, when we meet in this place, we are on Ngunnawal country. I give my thanks and pay my respects to our Ngunnawal elders, past, present and importantly emerging for our future. I honour...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Alan Jones

ALAN JONES: Prime Minister, good morning.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Alan.    JONES: I was just thinking last night when we're going to talk to you today, you must feel as though you've ...

News Company - avatar News Company

Business News

Having a mentor is a must to take your business to the next level

Kerstyn Walsh will have the chance to meet her business mentor, LA-based wedding planner to the stars, Lisa Vorce, which will be game-changing for growing Kerstyn’s business Kerstyn Walsh, a self-emp...

Media Release - avatar Media Release

Is Hiring a Corporate Lawyer for Your Company Necessary?

Alternative online legal services like LegalZoom, Incfile, and Rocket Lawyer provides young and budding entrepreneurs access to legal help at a much affordable price without having to hire or meet a l...

Joe Curmi - avatar Joe Curmi

Top 5 Green Marketing Ideas for Your Eco-Friendly Small Business

According to studies, about 33 percent of consumers prefer buying from brands that care about their impact on the environment. This is good news for anyone running an eco-friendly business. It’s a...

Diana Smith - avatar Diana Smith

Travel

Travelling With Pets? Here Is What You Should Know

Only a pet parent can understand the dilemma one experiences while planning a vacation. Do you leave your pets at home?  Will you get a pet sitter or someone to take care of them while you are away?...

News Company - avatar News Company

How to Be a Smart Frugal Traveller

You are looking through Instagram, watching story after story of your followers overseas at a beach in Santorini, walking through the piazza in Italy, and eating a baguette in front of the Eiffel ...

News Company - avatar News Company

HOW TO PREPARE FOR YOUR GRADUATION TRIP

Graduation is the stage of life when a student receives the rewards of hard work of years. It must have taken sleepless nights and tiring days to achieve the task. Now, as you have received your cov...

News Company - avatar News Company

ShowPo