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Looking At The Ethical Issues Raised In Research Social Work Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Political and ethical values have great impact on Social Sciences. While conducting research, the researcher should always be aware of those issues that may arise during time of the research process. Ethics in social research means linking individual responsibility to broader moral principles and to professional codes of conduct. Research ethics helps: to maintain the profession integrity, maintain the standards that have been set already; protects the reputation of good research; acknowledges research context; seeks funding and approval for ethical research (Z, O’leary, 2004 p42). Thus, power, politics and ethics should be analysed thoroughly by the researchers during the research process.

Harm to participants: social researchers should try to minimize disturbances to both subjects and subjects’ relationship with their environment. Maintaining privacy and confidentiality of the participants are vital things in the research process. Researchers should be fully aware of data protection act 1998 and be recorded accordingly.

Informed consent: individuals should be powered to make free decisions and be given all the information needed to make good decisions. Researchers should explain about the research including who is undertaking and financing, and why it is being undertaken and how it is to be promoted.

Invasion of privacy: the anonymity and privacy of those who participates in the research process should be respected.

Deception: The involvement of research participants must be entirely voluntary. If the participants do not understand fully or remember, they might not do what is expected or withdraw due to misunderstandings. Thus, participants should be empowered by full information along with the nature of the research. Indeed, it protects participants as well as researchers.(Bryman, A, 2008, p118-129)

Similarly, professional practice and ethical standards should be maintained during the process of research by choosing relevant research methodology. Likewise, reporting should be accurate, fabrication and falsification of data are considered as misconduct and interpretation of the data should be according to the general methodological standards. Furthermore, the researcher- researcher relationship should be maintained by not misusing the authority or role given and researchers should not list authors in their report without their permission. The research in fact should be guided by the accepted ethical standards(S, Sarantakos, 1998, p20-25).

Meanwhile, the political dimensions of the research should also be maintained during the research process in order to avoid biasness. Likewise, the political consideration of research includes the issues of outsider pressures, researcher’s own political position, the applicability of research findings and use of them by those who are in power, choice of research topic and research procedures, sponsors’ influence, funding bodies and governmental policy towards social science research (Bryman A, 2008, p131), as well as credibility of findings all should be considered throughout the research process.(S, Sarantakos,1998, p27-29)

Two empirical research studies have been selected and analysed from political and ethical point of view .Those studies are : (1) Factors That Predicts How women Label Their Own Childhood Sexual Abuse, and (2)Family Environment in Hispanic College Females with a history of Childhood Sexual Abuse. Both journals are derived from the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, vol 15(2) 2006 and; vol 16 (3) 2007 respectively. In both studies, all participants are females. Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is a private crime, enshrouded in the “Syndrome of secrecy” (Furnish, 1991, p22). One’s personal appraisal of sexual abuse may depend on societal definitions that recognize extreme behaviours as abusive, but leave other behaviours.

Although centuries of novels and autobiographies have dealt with the subject of child abuse in all its forms, society has been slow in term of recognizing the frequency with this committed assault. Since the last 20 years, research has understood the importance of CSA as a public health problem, yet the actual extent of CSA remains unknown. It is because of the efforts of a small number of researchers. The issues involved have been ignored, and there is correspondingly little mention of them in historical and anthropological studies (The political Consequences of Child Abuse, Alice Miller, The journal of psychiatry 26 (2) Fall 1998). For example, in May 2008 the world woke to the shocking news that a 71 years old Austrian man had imprisoned his own daughter in a small soundproofed windowless cellar of his family home for 24 years. During this time he raped her repeatedly and fathered seven children with her. Although around 100 people live on and off that house, none reported their concern to the authorities, preferring to turn a blind eye to what was going on.

Moreover, most of the available information about CSA’s distribution and determinants has not been based on methodologically valid and reliable measures. The lack of accurate estimates inhibits the development of effective preventive and treatment interventions. Similarly, S, Sarantakos (1998) illustrates further that data and materials already collected can only become available to researchers if the government allows it. The political bias may arises when government and funding bodies set priorities on issues they wish to be studied, promoting only what they consider as important and suppressing research in areas which they do not wish to see explored. Priorities are often biased, and certain minority groups and problems are neglected and certainly disadvantaged. The government appoints assessors of research grant applications to select the proposals that deserved support. But who are the assessors and who determined the parameter of choice? (S, Sarantakos, 1998). For example, Child abuse, that is actually neglected. Empirical sociological research studies based on data collected from children themselves are relatively few (Amit-Talai and Wuff, 1995; Mayball 1994a).

The method used in the first journal “How Women Label their Own CSA” was cross-sectional followed by structured interviews. The study was supported by a grant from the Texas Academy of Family Physician foundation. The main objectives of the studies were: to compare victims of CSA who labelled their experiences as “abusive” with victims who did not, examining differences in abusive experiences, victim characteristics, perpetrator characteristics, and family relationships. Interestingly, it illustrates that despite the psychological impact of sexual abuse, many victims do not acknowledge that their experience were “abuse”. Abuse whether acknowledge or unacknowledged, is associated with more psychological and sociological adjustment problems (Varia et al, 1996). Layman et .al (1996) found that acknowledged victims of rape reported more post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms than unacknowledged victims, who had more symptoms than non-victims. Although CSA is widely prevalent in the United States, an estimated 16% of males and 27% of females report some experiences with unwanted sexual experiences during childhood (Finkelhor, 1994). Likewise, Stander, Olson, and Merrill (2002) discovered that self-identification as a victim of CSA was associated with threats-force, incest and younger age of onset. In addition to the characteristics of the abuse, other factors may affect how an individual defines the experience: victim characteristics (for example, gender, cultural background and education) and family environment. The study is a secondary analysis of the Childhood Experience and Adult Stress (CEAS) database conducted in the Family Health Centre of the University Health Centre-Downtown in San Antonio, Texas. In the study, 100 women were assessed for major depressive episode(MDE), panic disorder, agoraphobia, substance abuse, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), borderline personality disorder(BPD), bulimia and suicidal where only 68 women met criteria for at least one adult disorder; several had multiple co-morbidities.

Re-using the qualitative data has several ethical and legal concerns. These include the use of whether and, if so, when researchers should seek consent to re-use data in secondary studies (Alderson, 1998). This could be done at the time when data are collected. However, information on exactly how data will be reused, by whom and for what purpose, is likely to be scant at this time. Alternatively, consent could be sought retrospectively, when particular secondary studies are planned. But this requires that participants’ identity and contact details are known and can be used for this purpose. Re-contacting participants also presents researchers with logistical and ethical difficulties where people might have changed address or may have died; being re-contacted may also be unwelcome to some former participants. In addition, whether or not researchers decide to seek fresh consent for a secondary study may depend on the data collection and the type of planned qualitative secondary analysis (Sage, social research methods, 2008). Moreover, in the study, researchers didn’t do any attempt to re-contacting and taking fresh consent for the studies; which are relatively difficult task. Doing research under such situation brings conflict for future policy and practice. Likewise, the original study sought to identify predictors of mental health and mental disorders in women with a history of CSA whereas the second analytic research on the same data was to identify factors that predict how women label their own experience of CSA. Such research findings might not be reliable and replicable.

Similarly, it has been observed that several women in the sample had not labelled their childhood sexual experiences as “abuse”. Therefore, this analysis was conducted by using dependent variable “acknowledgement of abuse”, in an attempt to understand how women subjected to sexual abuse as children come to define their experiences as “abuse”. A variable is a concept that can take two or more values where dependent variable is affected or explained by another variable (S, Sarantakos, social research methods, 1998, p73). Measurement relates to variables. In the study, several variables were associated with labelling in the bivriate comparisons, but did not reach significance in the logistic regression: (1) racial/ethnic background, (2) use of force/threats, and (3) duration of abuse. Hispanic was less likely than non-Hispanic whites to acknowledge the sexual activities as abuse.

In the sample, only English speaking females aged 18-40 were approached where 65% of the women were from Hispanic family. Thus, these responses may have uniquely reflected local culture and values in a young adult cohort. The population of Sant Antonio has majority of Hispanic ethnicity and other dominant groups include non-Hispanic and African Americans. Those groups represented in the clinic population and in the sample were low income, which reflected the entire community. It is not appropriate to generalize whole population on the basis of findings of such limited study criteria. Furthermore, the sample included only those who were willing to tell and describe the childhood experiences of abusive activity in a face-to-face interview. One third of those who met the criteria were not willing to disclose and participate in the research. This is the fact that they may not have differed in the nature of their experiences because they did not differ demographically from the 100 participants.

The CSA screening consisted of three main questions about their childhood sexual patterns. Women saying “yes” to any of the question were asked to complete a structured interview concerning the sexual abuse experience and their childhood environment and taken informed consent as well. The family-of-origin questionnaire describes the household environment throughout childhood. The 25-item parental bonding instrument assessed the quality of the parent-child relationship during the subject’s childhood. The demographic questionnaire collected information on subject’s gender, age, marital status, household size, educational attainment, occupation, income, and racial /ethnic background. The study has several limitations. Firstly, the outcome variable, “acknowledgement of abuse” had a single question and therefore may lack reliability. Secondly, the use of multiple comparisons may have inflation alpha level. Thirdly, the sample was small and unique, limiting statistical power and generalizability. In fact, the sample differed from other studies demographically. Finally, researching about traumatic childhood experiences biased politically because of the unattainable objectives. Furthermore, interviewing adult can result in data biased by poor recollection, re-interpretation of events, and failure to disclose. The study was funded by the private sponsor of the same study, so the applicability of the findings are surely related to political factors and it will totally depend on the sponsor to apply findings.

The second journal “family Environment in Hispanic College Females with a History of CSA” sought to examine the family environments of a sample of Hispanic college women who reported childhood sexual abuse. The qualitative method with individual interview was used in the study. The main objective was to explore the relation of child maltreatment in ethnic diversity associated with cultural factors and prevalence through the study of Hispanic female college students .In the study, eighteen women, ranging from 20 to 49 years , were taken from a larger college sample. Those women were individually interviewed and administered the Family Environment Scale (FES, Moos and Moos, 1994). The qualitative methodology was employed to the study. The larger the sample size, the grater the precision (Bryman, A, 2008, p180). The sample size in the study were relatively small, in such circumstances, the scope of the findings of qualitative investigation is restrictive. On the other hand, the findings can not be generalized to other settings because of its subjective nature and small sample size. Furthermore, it is almost impossible to conduct a true replication.

The study illustrates that ethnic diversity and cultural factors which may affect the prevalence of such abuse, so, the victim’s emotional and behavioural response, as well as the disclosure of the sexual abuse should be ignored (Kenny and McEachern, 2000). Existing research that has examined Hispanic victims compared with victims from other ethnic group have found that Hispanic victims were more likely to have been abused by extended family members (Arroyo et al.1997) because of the given cultural value to the family with strict rules. However, good relationship among family members, caring each other, sense of obligation, loyalty and duty; because of those values placed in the family, they would not like to reveal the CSA, which would be marked as shame and guilt in the society. Furthermore, the participants were evenly distributed across all socioeconomic levels. However, it was impossible to analyze the data separately by Hispanic group because of small sample size.

The project received approval from the University Research review Board and committee for human Subjects. Since the beginning of the research project, frequent announcement were made in a number of educational classes during the year. Potential participants were instructed to call the author and take an appointment for the participation. The participants who were participated in the research process were granted extra credit to their academic career. It implicated that they are just attracting and motivating the participants to participate and their motive was just to finish the research. In such circumstances, the research findings will be politically biased due to motives of the research funding. It does not actually seem to produce knowledge and generate theory. Such research would definitely have negative influence to future researchers. (May, T, 1997)

Furthermore, the following questions can be asked in any piece of research: who funded it? How was it conducted and by whom? What were the problems associated with the design and execution and how were the results interpreted and used? This enables to understand the context in which research takes place and the influences upon it as well as countering the tendency to see the production and design of the research as a technical issue uncontaminated by political and ethical questions (May, T, 1997 p45-46) .For example, in the study, even after several announcement and with incentives (credit) there were only eighteen participants.

During the process, informed consent was taken assuring confidentiality prior to the interview. Individual interviews were chosen owing to the sensitive nature of the material .The interview consisted of open-ended and closed questions about the demographic information including the participant’s potential history of sexual abuse. Following the use of a closed question, such as “what age were you when the abuse began?” further questions were elicited for more information during the interview. Furthermore, after interview, Family Environment scale (FES) was provided to the participants and allowed as much time as they like to complete. It is unstructured and often reliant upon the researcher’s ingenuity where conducting a true replication is almost impossible. Furthermore, there are hardly any standard procedures to be followed (Bryman, A, 2008 p391). Not only that, the researcher him or herself is the main instrument of data collection, so that what is observed and heard and also what researcher decides to concentrate upon is very much a product of his or her predictions. For example, some researchers are likely to empathize with other issues; while others choose to focus upon what strikes them as significant. Similarly, the responses of participants to such a qualitative research are likely to be affected by the characteristics of the researcher (personality, age, gender, and so on). Because of the unstructured nature of qualitative data, interpretation will be influenced by the subjective leaning of a researcher (A, Bryman, 2008, p391). Because of those factors, it is difficult, not to say impossible-to replicate such qualitative findings.

The goal of the study was to learn more about the family experiences of the women who reported CSA to generate future directions for future research and contribute to the understanding of Hispanic women’s experiences with CSA. The FES measure consisting of 9-item subscale was used to measure the respondent’s perceptions of the topic. The results highlighted some important areas for future inquiry. Some of the hypothesis was confirmed. The first hypothesis, that this sample would report elevated scores on the EFS of family conflict and decreased scores on Organization, was not supported. They did not demonstrated elevated scores on the conflict subscale of EFS because of focus on general conflict among family members. The second hypothesis, the organization of these families found some support, but the study showed a rather hierarchical structure with the father or parents at the top in most families; for example; male authority 50% and 39% of mothers made decisions. The third hypothesis was regarding the issue of sexuality; these women would report repressed sexual attitudes in their homes seems to have been confirmed for example, majority of them reported that their parents did not discuss issue related to sexuality.

In the study, all women were from a voluntary college population that is not representative of the greater Hispanic population; hence, making generalization to other groups is difficult. Similarly, the study used non-contact sexual experiences, so, careful examination of definitions of sexual abuse used in other studies should be made before comparisons are conducted. Future studies should focus on disclosure process including family reactions and level of parental support following disclosure. Likewise, comparing the responses of these participants to those who are not college students would be helpful for future comparisons.

In conclusion, both studies used relatively small sample that contained especially Hispanic female individuals from varying subgroups. Making generalization to others is difficult. Both studies are retrospective in nature, which required women to recall past incidents of child abuse as well as other dimensions of their families, poses limitation. Re-evaluation of past experiences and error in recall may affect responding in unknown ways (Clemmons et al, 2003; Rafaelli and Ontai, 2004); some claims that retrospective studies probably underreport abuse (Bolen, 1998). Furthermore, interviewing adult about past experiences of childhood sexual abuse can result in data bias. In addition, it is difficult to measure validity and reliability of the research. To a large extent, both studies lack transparency from research process to findings. The power that exercised in the research and sponsors’ influences over procedures are highly remarkable in both studies.


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