Disclosure of Child Murder: A Case Study of Ethical Dilemmas in Research (Ethics IN Research) (Report)
Disclosures of unreported incriminating information are rarely documented in research; researchers therefore often do not know how to respond when cases arise. Disclosure may occur when respondents volunteer information, without necessarily being asked, and presents an ethical dilemma. Researchers have to choose between maintaining confidentiality and public protection. Debate on confidentiality in research is ongoing; some advocate for totally preserving confidentiality, (1) while others argue that certain situations warrant a breach of confidentiality. (2) Although laws and ethical codes guide how we behave in a research context, they may be insufficient to cover complex situations and may conflict or be hard to interpret. (3) Breaking confidentiality is a complex issue and needs careful deliberation and sensitive handling. Negative consequences that could result from breach of confidentiality include death (presumably of the participant), expatriation or other severe forms of harm. (4) Cowburn (2) suggests three issues to consider before breaching confidentiality with a report to authorities. The first is checking whether the disclosure identifies a specific offender, and a specific victim. If so one should consider the nature of the offence, the identity of the perpetrator, the identity of the victim, and when the offence occurred or is threatened to occur. The decision whether to report is based on the balance of these issues. There is little literature on this area of research, and this body of knowledge needs to be documented.