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Ethical gaps in conducting research among adult survivors of child sexual abuse: A review

Radhika K, Manjula M, TS Jaisoorya

DOI: 10.20529/IJME.2018.046


Although there have been numerous studies, especially in the last few decades, on the impact of child sexual abuse (CSA) on adult survivors, there is a dearth of studies focusing on the ethical aspects of research in this area. Against this background, we reviewed the literature published between January 2000 and December 2016 on the reporting of ethical guidelines followed in research on adult survivors of CSA. We conducted a PubMed (MEDLINE) and Google Scholar search to find published research, using the keywords: “child sexual abuse”, “adult survivors”, “research”, “guidelines” and “ethics”. Our findings suggest that no particular assessment method is superior in terms of disclosure of information or reduction of distress. The use of developmentally appropriate educative materials, sensitisation, and debriefing sessions have shown some benefit in reducing distress. There is a lack of legal or social consensus on mandatory legal reporting of information provided by adult survivors of sexual abuse, with most researchers working on the premise that adults have the freedom of choice. Often, a constraint among researchers is the lack of structured training or supervision in sensitive research, which may negatively impact both the participant and the researcher. Institute ethics boards and institutions currently lack the framework to consider protocols and facilitate research, and this poses serious obstacles to fostering research. In this situation, ongoing research needs to focus on ethical aspects. Together with this, we recommend certain ethical practices drawn from various studies that may be employed for participants, researchers, and institutional ethics boards.

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