Research participants telling the truth about their lives: the ethics of asking and not asking about abuse

Am Psychol. 2006 Apr;61(3):218-26. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.61.3.218.


Most discussions of the ethics of self-report research on abuse and interpersonal violence focus on the risks of asking participants about their experiences. An important element of the cost-benefit analysis--the costs of not asking about child abuse--has largely been ignored. Furthermore, little research has been conducted on the costs and benefits of child abuse research, leaving researchers to make decisions based on individual beliefs about such issues as the prevalence of abuse, the likelihood of disclosure, the effects of child abuse, and the ability of abuse survivors to give informed consent. The authors suggest that these beliefs tend to overemphasize survivors' vulnerability and ignore the costs of avoiding asking about abuse. In fact, these beliefs may reinforce societal avoidance of abuse and ultimately harm abuse survivors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / ethics
  • Child Abuse / psychology
  • Domestic Violence / ethics
  • Domestic Violence / psychology
  • Ethics Committees, Research
  • Ethics, Professional*
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Research Subjects / psychology*
  • Self Disclosure
  • Survivors / psychology
  • Truth Disclosure / ethics*
  • Violence / ethics*
  • Violence / psychology