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Prof. Malcolm Cowburn"Ethical issues in (qualitative) research with sex offenders"

Prof. Malcolm Cowburn "Ethical issues in (qualitative) research with sex offenders"

Abstract: This paper reflects on some ethical and epistemological issues involved in conducting qualitative research with sex offenders that is respectful to all parties involved in the offence. It considers three issues: • Hegemonic knowledge and the shaping of research agendas. Most research about sex offenders is conducted on/with convicted populations. Most sex offenders only receive one conviction for sexual offences. The number of sexual offences continues to increase. The ethical difficulties in researching ‘unconvicted’ offenders restrict research in an area that may be most helpful in reducing sex crimes. • Dilemmas related to the development of new knowledge whilst not contributing harming others. Central to this problem is the issue of confidentiality; traditionally criminological research has operated within a context of offering total confidentiality to research participants. In researching sexual and violent offences this is potentially problematic where participants may disclose unreported offences or the intention to harm others in the future. • Constraints and possibilities of the qualitative interview – recognising and managing interpersonal/dialogical issues. Two issues are considered here, and they both relate to the issue of ‘objectivity’ in interview practice. The first area briefly considers the problem of ‘value’ dissonance where interviewers are required to listen to material that strongly conflicts with their own values. The second area is the managing of distress in a qualitative interview. Whilst principle based ethics can provide guidelines for conducting research they potentially restrict respectful dialogue between researcher and research participant. Character relationship based approaches (e.g. ‘virtue ethics’, ‘ethics of care’ and ‘post-modern ethics’) may offer greater scope for developing respectful research practice.

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Amory B316