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The Ethics of Involving Children Who Have Been Abused in Child Abuse Research

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Is it ethical for children to experience pain or sadness when talking about their experiences of abuse for purposes of research? Can they be re-traumatised by this experience? How can confidentiality be guaranteed if there are concerns about current abuse? These are some of the ethical questions that arise when children who have been abused are involved in research. Yet it is also recognised that children have a right to be involved in research. The critical dilemma is how to balance the welfare rights of children to be protected from any possible exploitation, trauma and harm with their right to be consulted and heard about matters that affect them. The difficulty in resolving this conflict may be one reason that current literature on this subject is still limited, and because such research places researchers 'in a minefield of ethical dilemmas' (Runyan, 2000: 676).

This paper critically explores the ethical issues encountered in a study which encouraged children and young people who had been abused to speak for themselves about their experiences of victimisation. The authors discuss the ethical dilemmas that were encountered and how these were addressed in the context of children's rights. The authors argue that while serious ethical difficulties arise in this type of research, strategies which empower and promote children's informed participation, and minimise risks, are possible. The article presents the voices of children wherever relevant.


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Affiliations: 1: Child Abuse Prevention Research Australia, Monash University


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