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Institutional Ethics Challenges to Sex Work Researchers: Committees, Communities, and Collaboration

Huysamen, Monique and Sanders, Teela (2021) Institutional Ethics Challenges to Sex Work Researchers: Committees, Communities, and Collaboration. Sociological Research Online. ISSN 1360-7804


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Doing research in the field of sex work studies throws up challenges. Among these are the restrictions and regulatory issues placed on researchers by institutional ethical review processes. We draw on academic research and our personal experiences as two researchers who have been involved with many sex work research projects to illustrate how sex work researchers face a set of challenges relating to ethics – we define these as institutional ethics challenges rather than ethical challenges. They are the challenges associated with applying for and obtaining ethical approval from research institutions and funders to conduct research on stigmatised and potentially criminalised topics. This article has three aims. First, to discuss the institutional ethics challenges that sex work researchers may encounter when applying for ethical clearance. Second, to assist researchers in making a case for their research by communicating the value of doing research on sex work in contexts where it remains criminalised and by placing the assumed risks associated with sex work research into perspective. Finally, to offer a pathway forward regarding how, guided by co-produced research protocols, researchers and sex work Communities can find common ground for good practice to enhance collaboration and foster genuinely ethical research.

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