WHO Ethical and safety recommendations for researching, documenting and monitoring sexual violence in emergencies

The highly sensitive nature of sexual violence poses a unique set of challenges for any data gathering activity that touches on this issue. A range of ethical and safety issues must be considered and addressed prior to the commencement of any such inquiry. Failure to do so can result in harm to the physical, psychological and social well-being of those who participate and can even put lives at risk. It is essential therefore to ensure that the case for collecting data is legitimate. Furthermore, when collecting and using information about sexual violence, it must be done in such a way so as to avoid further harm to those who are part of the process. This includes not just the victims and survivors and their families and supporters, but also communities, organizations working with survivors, and those involved in gathering the information itself.

There are a number of established codes of practice that offer guidance in matters relating to the ethics and safety of research and documentation that involves human subjects (see annex p. 31). Ethical and safety guidelines (or recommendations) specific to the particular issues that arise during collection of information about sexual violence in emergencies, however, are lacking. The recommendations in this document have thus been developed in order to address this gap. They are not meant to replace but rather to complement existing internationally-agreed ethical guidelines for research and to inform ethics review processes.

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