Managing Ethical Problems in Qualitative Research Involving Vulnerable Populations, Using a Pilot Study

Evalina van Wijk, Tracie Harrison

Abstract


The purpose of the researcher’s study was to examine the meaning that intimate partners of female rape victims attached to their lived experiences after the rape. The conduct of qualitative research concerning non-offending partners of female rape victims, however, often involves multifaceted ethical and practical challenges, which can be managed through the use of pilot studies. The pilot study described in this report had three objectives. The first was to pretest and refine the proposed method for locating, accessing, and recruiting intimate partners of female rape victims, within the first two weeks after the rape, for participation in a six-month longitudinal study. The second objective was to identify and prevent all possible risk factors in the proposed recruitment and data collection methods that could harm the participants’ safety during the main study. The third objective was to determine the feasibility of the main study, in terms of the limited financial and human resources available. The pilot phase was valuable in identifying ethical and methodological problems during the recruitment of participants and collection of data. It allowed for methodological adjustments prior to the main study and confirmed the feasibility of the overall research design. A pilot, pretesting phase is therefore seen as an essential component of a qualitative study involving a vulnerable population.

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