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Ethical and Legal Considerations for Crafting Rigorous Online Sex Trafficking Research Methodology

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The literature involving human trafficking is limited and often involves advocacy groups, victim shelters, and gatekeepers. As a result, an inaccurate representation of human trafficking may occur. To increase the existing literature base, many investigators are crafting methodology that involves examining Internet-based commercial sex advertisements. Such investigation involves the undetermined ontological status of the Internet and raises the question of whether such postings are representative of written, publicly available text or if they are representative of human participants. This paper postulates that the increased risk of examining Internet-based commercial sex advertisements may dissuade scholars from interpreting the Internet as a textual repository. This could be the result of mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse as required by state law and the required reporting of felonious behavior as required by federal law. The authors advocate for the adoption of a human subjects approach to Internet-based sex trafficking research as it reduces the potential for inadvertent harm to parties, but to also request a waiver of informed consent as is outlined in §46.116 and §46.408 (c) of Part 46, Protection of Human Subjects.

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Correspondence to Jesse Bach.

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Bach, J., Dohy, J. Ethical and Legal Considerations for Crafting Rigorous Online Sex Trafficking Research Methodology. Sex Res Soc Policy 12, 317–322 (2015).

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