Skip to main content

Doing No Harm—Ethical Challenges in Research with Trafficked Persons

Part of the Studies of Organized Crime book series (SOOC,volume 13)

Abstract

Central to any ethical research is the principle of “do no harm”, that when conducting research we do no harm to the persons we are researching and whose experiences we are seeking to explore and understand. This principle is especially critical when conducting research with persons in vulnerable situations, such as trafficking victims. And yet, avoiding harm is neither simple nor direct; there are many challenges and fault lines in terms of navigating this ethical space. This chapter discusses the different aspects of providing information about assistance to respondents when conducting research with trafficking victims, as a means of preventing and mitigating research harm. At the same time, we highlight the obstacles in identifying assistance options and offering referral information to respondents, in terms of both the actual existence of services and their appropriateness and desirability for respondents. Challenges include situations when services are unavailable, when services are available but inappropriate or undesirable, when services are inaccessible to trafficking victims due to their legal status, and difficulties in accessing services because of personal and practical barriers.

Keywords

  • Ethics
  • Human trafficking
  • Research
  • Victim assistance
  • Referrals
  • Do no harm
  • Beneficence
  • Trafficking victim

This chapter was partially funded in the framework of NEXUS Institute’s research on reintegration in Indonesia, “Protecting the unassisted and underserved”, generously funded by the US Department of State, under the terms of Grant No S-SGTIP-11-GR-0044. The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the US Department of State. This chapter was also partially funded in the framework of the project Health Services and Needs in Prostitution, generously funded by the Norwegian Research Council, under the terms of grant 213986/H10.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Buying options

Chapter
USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-21521-1_9
  • Chapter length: 18 pages
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
eBook
USD   99.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • ISBN: 978-3-319-21521-1
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
Softcover Book
USD   129.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Hardcover Book
USD   139.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)

Notes

  1. 1.

    As noted by Zimmermann and Watts (2004, p. 565): “Seeing a woman in an extremely abusive environment can incite some interviewers to take action on the woman’s behalf. However, in the past, such well-meaning actions have left women in worse situations than before.”

  2. 2.

    One challenge in offering assistance to trafficking victims is that receiving assistance can identify women as trafficking victims (seen by many as “deviant”) and, therefore, lead to stigmatization (Brunovskis and Surtees, 2007, 2010, p. 468; Surtees 2007, 2013).

  3. 3.

    See also Brunovskis and Surtees (2010) for a discussion of informed consent in situations where the distinction between researcher and service provider/“helper” may become blurred.

  4. 4.

    One study of assistance in Southeast Europe highlighted the value of offering written material about assistance, given that many victims require some time to process the information, weigh up their options, and come to a decision about whether or not to accept or seek out assistance (Surtees 2007, p. 76).

  5. 5.

    “Lucky” men from those provinces where the few NGOs ran programmes might receive some small economic support (i.e., a grant of chickens or ducks or vocational training).

  6. 6.

    This research project (“Protecting the Unassisted and Underserved”) is funded by the US Department of State, under the terms of Grant No S-SGTIP-11-GR-0044.

  7. 7.

    Another way of addressing a lack of services is described in Kyriakakis et al. (2014), in the context of a study on intimate partner violence (IPV). When the researcher found a lack of resources for victims of IPV in her research site, she conducted basic IPV training with other organizations in the community that were assisting the group on other issues to enable them to offer appropriate services.

  8. 8.

    A more comprehensive analysis of obstacles to accessing anti-trafficking assistance generally can be found in Brunovskis and Surtees (2007), where the main focus is on victims declining assistance. See also Surtees (2013) for an exploration of this issue in Southeast Asia.

  9. 9.

    The context for assistance to irregular migrants in Norway has since changed, with the establishment of a health center for irregular migrants. Still, in terms of legal protection and protection against violence, there is little reason to believe that the situation is different.

  10. 10.

    Researchers obtained their consent to follow up with them at a later stage, following the interview. Those that did not consent were not contacted.

References

  • Agustin, L. (2007). Sex at the margins. Migration, labour and the rescue industry. London: Zed Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Aradau, C. (2004). The perverse politics of four-letter words: risk and pity in the securitisation of human trafficking. Millennium—Journal of International Studies, 33, 251–277.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Berman, J. (2003). (Un)popular strangers and crises (Un)bounded: discourses of sex-trafficking, the European political community and the panicked State of the modern State. European Journal of International Relations, 9(1), 37–86.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Brunovskis, A. (2010). Irregular migration research in Norway: reflections on research ethics and methodological challenges based on a method development project. In K. Hviid, M. B. Jørgensen, S. Meret & T. Lund Thomsen (Eds.), Irregular migration in a scandinavian perspective (pp. 47–71). Maastricht: Shaker Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brunovskis, A., & Bjerkan, L. (2008). Research with irregular migrants in Norway. Methodological and ethical challenges and emerging research agendas. (UDI FoU-report June).

    Google Scholar 

  • Brunovskis, A., & Surtees, R. (2007). Leaving the past behind. When trafficking victims decline assistance. Washington, DC: NEXUS Institute (Oslo, Norway: Fafo).

    Google Scholar 

  • Brunovskis, A., & Surtees, R. (2008). Agency or illness: the conceptualization of trafficking victims choices and behaviors in the assistance system. Gender, Technology and Development, 12(1), 53–76.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Brunovskis, A., & Surtees, R. (2010). Untold stories. Biases and selection effects in research with victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. International Migration, 48(4), 1–37.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Brunovskis, A., & Surtees, R. (2012a). A fuller picture. Addressing trafficking-related assistance needs and socio-economic vulnerabilities. Washington, DC: NEXUS Institute (Oslo, Norway: Fafo).

    Google Scholar 

  • Brunovskis, A., & Surtees, R. (2012b). No place like home. Challenges in family reintegration after trafficking. Washington, DC: NEXUS Institute (Oslo. Norway: Fafo).

    Google Scholar 

  • Council of Europe (2005). Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings and its Explanatory Report, Council of Europe. Treaty Series, No. 197, 16.V.2005.

    Google Scholar 

  • Demi, A., & Warren, N. (1995). Issues in conducting research with vulnerable families. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 17(2), 188–202.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Dottridge, M. (Ed.). (2007). Collateral damage: the impact of anti-trafficking measures on human rights around the world. Bangkok: GAATW.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gallagher, A., & Pearson, E. (2010). The high cost of freedom. Human Rights Quarterly, 32, 73–114.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Hugman, R., Pittaway, E., & Bartolomei, L. (2011). When do no harm is not enough. The ethics of research with refugees and other vulnerable populations. British Journal of Social Work, 41, 1271–1287.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Kavanaugh, K., Moro, T., Savage, T., & Mehendale, R. (2006). Enacting a theory of caring to recruit and retain vulnerable participants for sensitive research. Research in Nursing and Heath, 26, 244–252.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Kvale, S. (1996). Interviews: An introduction to qualitative research interviewing. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kyriakakis, S., Waller, B., Kagotho, N., & Edmond, T. (2014). Conducting safe research with at risk populations. Design strategies from a study with unauthorized immigrant women experiencing intimate abuse. Qualitative Social Work, 14, 259–274.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Lee, M. (2014). Gendered discipline and protective custody of trafficking victims in Asia. Punishment and Society, 16, 206–222.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Mossige, S. & Back-Hansen, E. (2013). For sensitivt for ungdom? In H. Fossheim & I. Hølen (Eds.), Barn i forskning. Etiske dimensjoner. Oslo: De nasjonale forskningsetiske komiteene.

    Google Scholar 

  • O’Connell Davidson, J. (2006). Will the real sex slave please stand up? Feminist Review, 83, 4–22.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Peled, E., & Leichtentritt, R. (2002). The ethics of qualitative social work research. Qualitative Social Work, 1, 145–169.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Surtees, R. (2007). Listening to victims: Experiences of identification, return and assistance in Southeastern Europe. Vienna: USAID, ICMPD & NEXUS.

    Google Scholar 

  • Surtees, R. (2008a). Trafficked men, unwilling victims. St. Antony’s International Review, 4(1), 16–36.

    Google Scholar 

  • Surtees, R. (2008b). Trafficking in men, a trend less considered. The case of Belarus and Ukraine. Geneva: IOM (Washington, DC: NEXUS Institute).

    Google Scholar 

  • Surtees, R. (2013). After trafficking. Experiences and challenges in the (re)integration of trafficked persons in the greater mekong sub-region. Oxon & NY: UNIAP & NEXUS Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  • Surtees, R. (2014). In African waters. The trafficking of Cambodian fishers in South Africa. Washington, DC: NEXUS Institute (Geneva. Switzerland: IOM).

    Google Scholar 

  • UNIAP. (2008). Guide to ethics and human rights in counter-trafficking. Ethical standards for counter-trafficking research and programmes. Bangkok: UNIAP.

    Google Scholar 

  • WHO. (2003). Ethical and Safety Recommendations for Interviewing Trafficked Women. Geneva: WHO.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zimmermann, C. & Watts, C. (2004). Risks and responsibilities: Guidelines for interviewing trafficked women. Lancet, 363, 565.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rebecca Surtees .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Copyright information

© 2016 Springer International Publishing Switzerland

About this chapter

Cite this chapter

Surtees, R., Brunovskis, A. (2016). Doing No Harm—Ethical Challenges in Research with Trafficked Persons. In: Siegel, D., de Wildt, R. (eds) Ethical Concerns in Research on Human Trafficking. Studies of Organized Crime, vol 13. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-21521-1_9

Download citation

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-21521-1_9

  • Published:

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-319-21520-4

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-319-21521-1

  • eBook Packages: Law and CriminologyLaw and Criminology (R0)