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Cult Health Sex. 2011 Oct;13(9):1091-102. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2011.604429. Epub 2011 Aug 9.

Perceptions about safety and risks in gender-based violence research: implications for the ethics review process.

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Gender and Health Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council, Pretoria, South Africa.


Does research on gender-based violence (GBV) pose greater than minimal risk to researchers and participants? This question needs to be understood particularly in light of hesitancy by Institutional Review Boards to approve research on GBV. The safety and risks of doing GBV studies and the implications for the ethical review process have not been a focus of much research. This qualitative study collected data through in-depth interviews with 12 experienced GBV researchers from various countries and a desk review. This paper explores researchers' interpretation of and meanings of the safety recommendations as provided in the WHO guidelines and whether there is empirical evidence on the presence of risks and safety concerns unique to GBV research. Informants raised a number of safety concerns about GBV research, yet in the interviews there were very few examples of problems having occurred, possibly because of the precautions applied. This paper argues that the notion that GBV studies carry greater than minimal risk when ethics precautions are followed is based on speculation, not evidence. It highlights the need for empirical evidence to support assertions of risk in research.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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