Sexual violence and digital ethics: the implications of researching online disclosures in the post- #MeToo era

Tully O’Neill1
1RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia

Hashtag movements such as #BeenRapedNeverReported, #NotOkay, and the currently omnipresent #MeToo have created a context that encourages victim-survivors to disclose experiences of sexual violence online. With this increase in online activism around sexual violence, there is likely to also be increased research by sexual violence scholars examining the ways victim-survivors use online platforms. Research into online spaces and practices typically involves methods such as digital ethnography, online recruitment and online interviewing. For sexual violence scholars, and criminologists working in areas where their research participants might be vulnerable or marginalised, this new digital turn brings with it significant ethical implications and concerns. For instance, ethical concerns of privacy, confidentiality and consent are heightened when conducting research with victim-survivors of sexual violence, and in a digital environment these concerns are, arguably, amplified. Further considerations should be made about what online platforms researchers themselves should use that ensure our ethical obligations are met.

This paper draws from the author’s experiences researching how and why victim-survivors use digital platforms in the aftermath of sexual violence. The paper explores the ethical implications of examining the online disclosures of victim-survivors. It questions whether digital research ethics do enough to ensure that victim-survivors of sexual violence retain ownership and control over their disclosures. It also discusses the nuances and complexities of digital recruitment methods and digital research methods, examining if such practices should be tailored to suit the needs of vulnerable research groups.

Tully O’Neill is a doctoral candidate in Criminology at RMIT University, Melbourne. Her research examines the experiences, justice needs, and outcomes of victim-survivors of sexual violence who disclose via online platforms.



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