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Disclosure of non-recent (historic) childhood sexual abuse: What should researchers do?

Silverio, SA; Bewley, S; Montgomery, E; Roberts, C; Richens, Y; Maxted, F; Sandall, J; (2020) Disclosure of non-recent (historic) childhood sexual abuse: What should researchers do? Journal of Medical Ethics 10.1136/medethics-2020-106343. Green open access

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Abstract

Non-recent (historic) childhood sexual abuse is an important issue to research, though often regarded as taboo and frequently met with caution, avoidance or even opposition from research ethics committees. Sensitive research, such as that which asks victim-survivors to recount experiences of abuse or harm, has the propensity to be emotionally challenging for both the participant and the researcher. However, most research suggests that any distress experienced is usually momentary and not of any clinical significance. Moreover, this type of research offers a platform for voices which have often been silenced, and many participants report the cathartic effect of recounting their experiences in a safe, non-judgemental space. With regard to the course of such research, lines of inquiry which ask adult participants to discuss their experiences of childhood sexual abuse may result in a first-time disclosure of that abuse by the victim-survivor to the researcher. Guidance about how researchers should respond to first-time disclosure is lacking. In this article, we discuss our response to one research ethics committee which had suggested that for a qualitative study for which we were seeking ethical approval (investigating experiences of pregnancy and childbirth having previously survived childhood sexual abuse), any disclosure of non-recent (historic) childhood sexual abuse which had not been previously reported would result in the researcher being obliged to report it to relevant authorities. We assess this to be inconsistent with both law and professional guidance in the United Kingdom; and provide information and recommendations for researchers and research ethics committees to consider.

Type: Article
Title: Disclosure of non-recent (historic) childhood sexual abuse: What should researchers do?
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1136/medethics-2020-106343
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1136/medethics-2020-106343
Language: English
Additional information: This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this work for any purpose, provided the original work is properly cited, a link to the licence is given, and indication of whether changes were made. See: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences > UCL EGA Institute for Womens Health
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences > UCL EGA Institute for Womens Health > Reproductive Health
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Laws
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10114707
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