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School of Applied Social Sciences

SASS Staff

Publication details for Professor Nicole Westmarland

Downes, J., Kelly, L. & Westmarland, N. (2014). Ethics in Violence and Abuse Research - a Positive Empowerment Approach. Sociological Research Online 19(1): 1-23.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

Research governance, including research ethics committees and data protection legislation, is invested in protecting the individual rights of participants in social care and health research. Increasingly funders expect evidence of outcomes that engage with 'service users', making research critical in supporting social interventions to compete for scant resources in an economic climate marked by 'austerity' (Sullivan 2011). This article focuses on the tensions that can arise from the research governance of violence and abuse research. We argue that increased scrutiny of violence and abuse as a 'sensitive' topic that involves 'vulnerable' groups has made ethical clearance more challenging, which in turn can lead to a dangerous lack of evidence. This can have a harmful impact upon women and children and leave specialised violence and abuse services facing a precarious future. Drawing on recent debates we describe the 'positive empowerment' approach used to engage victim-survivors and perpetrators of domestic violence in Project Mirabal. We conclude with recommendations for ethical decision-making in violence and abuse research: (i) to reconsider participants as active agents and stakeholders; (ii) to prioritise the development of skilled researchers; (iii) to develop situated processes of informed consent and confidentiality; and (iv) to continue to discuss and share practical experiences of feminist research practice that seeks to deliver justice and social change.