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Salud mental

versión impresa ISSN 0185-3325


GUTIERREZ, Rafael; VEGA, Leticia  y  RODRIGUEZ, Eva María. Ethical problems and dilemmas in research on the commercial sexual explotation of children. Salud Ment [online]. 2008, vol.31, n.5, pp.403-408. ISSN 0185-3325.

The article begins by defining commercial sexual explotation of children (CSEC) as an exercise of power that commercializes the sexual abuse of children and adolescents so that the exploiters, nearly always adult men, will obtain financial profit or some type of social, psychological or other satisfaction. Victims of CSEC are girls and, to a lesser extent, boys. In any case, they are persons under the age of 18, who have been stripped of their right to be respected and protected from slavery and sexual abuse, discrimination, sickness and crime. This usurpation of rights occurs in certain businesses in the sexual industry (such as prostitution in bars, saloon bars, eateries, brothels, hotels and in the journals, videos and websites on the Internet run by pornographers and child molesters) and the street sex market (including prostitution in streets, squares, beaches, and parks). The main thrust of this article is to analyze some of the problems derived from the failure to comply with the principles of research ethics when studying commercial sexual exploitation (CSEC) in the sex industry and street sex market in Mexico. Research about CSEC started during the 90's focusing on the sex industry and street market in Mexico City and Guadalajara, Jalisco. By the end of that decade the National System for the Integral Development of Families (NSIDF) created a program against CSEC, with social research being one of its core objectives. A brief analysis is conducted of the problems derived from the failure to comply with ethical standards in the early covert research on CSEC in Mexico. It reports that this type of research encourages protection of the researcher without obtaining informed consent, respecting the dignity, confidentiality or anonymity of victims or providing any type of protection for the victims from any type of damage caused by their participation in the research. Most of the research projects focus on detecting victims in the sex industry and the stress sex market in various cities throughout the country. To this end, various methods and techniques have been used that require compliance with basic ethical standards in the relationship between researchers and key informants and in the reports by responsible researchers. Although it might be said that projects review and approval by an ethics committees implicitly assume compliance, there is still a considerable amount of studies without manifest ethic support. This article also discusses the fact that the de-contextualized application of the principles of research ethics to CSEC studies does not suffice to solve the previous problems, and may create ethical dilemmas in CSEC research. It also specifically describes one of the dilemmas faced in the authors' own research. Although a certain percentage of the research related to the issue is obviously reviewed and approved by an ethics committee that implicitly acknowledges this compliance, there continues to be a considerable number of studies with no manifest ethical support. Researchers responsible for the detection of and interviews with victims of CSEC also seek to defend themselves without protecting any of the latter. For example, many researchers act as clients in order to go unnoticed by exploiters and record the presence of teenagers in bars, saloon bars and diners without offering them any form of protection. These researchers never report that the victims interviewed have been informed of their right to refuse to answer or to leave whenever they wish. Ten years ago one researcher decided to penetrate a network that exploited adolescents. He managed to know the procedures followed to contact, enroll and coerce victims, as well as the commercial sex activities. Some authors consider that the violation of informant's rights in social research can be avoided by applying the universal principles of ethics in scientific research. However, the application of such principles seems to be insufficient to solve the wide range of ethical problems that raise in frequent and deep social relationships to informants. Applying the universal principles out of context would also obstruct the development of ethical validated social sciences such as participant observation, and generate other problems. For instance, the application of the principle of anonymity to protect the informant's identity when the participants wish to have their real names used on research reports, can make participants feel disappointed and stolen when reading their own experiences being reported under somebody else's name. This might persuade them to participate in other research projects. The article ends by describing the lessons learned during this work. Recommendations include protecting the physical, social and psychological welfare of the persons studied and those with whom one works, finding out about the social context where one's fieldwork is conducted; adopting a rights and gender approach; avoiding research solely designed to detect victims without offering them protection; detecting victims within the context of inter-institutional coordination (State Prosecutor's offices, Municipal and State DIF Systems and welfare organizations run by civilians), and rescue and protection programs that will guarantee the restoration of their rights and ensure the research team's welfare. At the very least, they should be quite clear that their own safety should always take precedence over their research.

Palabras llave : Social research ethics; commercial sexual exploitation of children; ethical dilemmas; children's rights; informed consent.

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