Any research requires careful thought to ensure that the best ethical practices are being used. When research involves children, we have added responsibilities to do the best by them. When research seeks to generate knowledge and evidence about sexual abuse, exploitation, trafficking, and similar issues involving children, there are a unique set of additional sensitivities.
The right to participate
There is certainly a need for research on these topics to understand the way that children are impacted. Strong evidence allows us to better prevent sexual exploitation and support survivors through improved programming. But beyond providing better data, research can also have other benefits.
Children have the right to be involved and shape research that could have positive impacts on them and their peers. They have a right to participate and we have a responsibility to include their perspectives.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has been around for 30 years, and one of the many important articles in the convention ensures the right for children to be heard and have the right to give or voice their opinions freely, as well as for adults to take their words and opinions seriously.
Preventing further harm
At heart is the necessity to balance the benefits with the possible – and sometimes significant – risks of harm. For example, survivors retelling or reliving experiences of sexual abuse and exploitation for research projects can be highly distressing or even traumatic. But is this type of research absolutely necessary? Could such data be found through secondary means instead?
The Guidelines for Ethical Research on Sexual Exploitation involving Children offer a framework for ethical research design in this area. They guide the reader through four steps in research design and implementation and set up a series of ‘ethical tasks’ that should be undertaken in your research project.
The Guidelines are not intended to definitively answer questions, but will help the reader find answers themselves about their individual research project.
The Guidelines are the result of an ongoing ethics project supported by Chung Cheng University Taiwan, ECPAT Taiwan and ECPAT International and a working group of ECPAT member organisations and other experts. We encourage the wide dissemination of the Guidelines and look forward to their influence in research in this area improving towards best practice.