Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

Doing Human Trafficking Research: Reflections on Ethical Challenges

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

Doing Human Trafficking Research: Reflections on Ethical Challenges

Article excerpt

If you are researching with participants or groups who may be vulnerable or on sensitive/risky topics, it is recommended you increase your ethical "competence" in that specific area. (Farrimond, 2013, p. 164)

1. Introduction

This article was written immediately following the completion of my PhD in Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Waikato, New Zealand after a five-year research study on the human trafficking issue. The long PhD journey has given me different feelings, experiences, and understandings of human trafficking and the research of human subjects; however, my most remarkable experience has been dealing with ethical considerations and working with trafficked women in the field. I promised myself that the first article I would write after my PhD would be one on ethical considerations of doing human trafficking research as I really want to emphasize the importance of ethics, the needs to avoid unethical research, and to help raise people's awareness of ethical issues and concerns with precautions against violations of ethical practices. Literately, there has been much of writing about research ethics in general, but there are few documents that focus on the ethics of human trafficking research in particular.

My research was a policy evaluation research which focuses on gender evaluation of an anti-trafficking policy in Vietnam. In the field, I talked to 114 participants in 60 semi-structured in-depth interviews and 7 focus group discussions. The participants belong to four cohorts: 25 state actors (at central and local government levels); 4 non-state actors (representatives of NGOs and IGOs); 54 women in the community; and 31 trafficked women. While all other participants were interviewed, women in the community took part in focus group discussions. As everyone can be at risk of being traf- ficked, voices of those who are in the community are considerably important.

My research does not only involve human subjects, it is also research on human trafficking as a sensitive topic. The research, therefore, had potential consequences and implications, either directly or indirectly, for my research participants and individuals represented by the research. Many problems entered my mind before I went to conduct my fieldwork: How might I get data from high-ranking officers? How might I get information without hurting people, especially trafficked women who have already suffered different vulnerabilities and traumas? And, How might I assure safety and security for my research participants, and myself?

2. Entering a New Research Environment: Ethical Conduct in Human Research

Ethical issues have become a crucial element for social research internationally, especially for the research involving human subjects. Being a researcher from developing country, ethics is something unfamiliar to me because ethical considerations have not been adequately taken into account while doing research in Asian countries generally, including my country, Vietnam. There are often no obligatory ethics rules that researchers have to follow; however, we understand that data needs to be truthful and reliable. A normal process of doing a research in our country includes the writing of a research proposal, preparing research tools, contacting people in the research sites, making a data collection, analyzing data, and writing a report. There has been lack of attention paid to ethical considerations. As noted by Mollet (2011), ethical issues are important, however, they are still symbolic in developing countries because ethics committees are often unfamiliar with the social and political contexts of these societies. He also mentions the issue of cultural sensitivity as ethics rules set out by developed countries can be unsuitable to developing countries.

New Zealand requires ethical approval for all research involving human subjects and each university has its own ethical requirements. The Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti o Waitangi) - New Zealand's founding document - is an important reference to any ethical conduct in the country. …

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