The Importance of Balancing the Need for Research and Participant Protection

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Adopted by the ATSA Executive Board of Directors on January 13, 2001

Continued Research into the Causes and Courses of Sexual Aggression is the Life-Blood of ATSA and Essential to its Mission of Reducing Sexual Abuse

A prime objective of Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) is the reduction of all forms of sexual abuse. Critical to the achievement of this goal are (a) an understanding of the causes and consequences of sexually abusive behavior, (b) the ability to assess the characteristics that predispose individuals to perpetrate such abuse and that predict subsequent abusive behavior, (c) insight into the social programs and legislative initiatives that can reduce the incidence of sexual abuse and minimize the negative consequences to the victims of sexual abuse, and (d) a determination of the optimal methods of intervention both for preventing the occurrence and reducing the probability of the repetition of sexual abuse. Attainment of an organized body of knowledge about etiology, assessment validity, prediction accuracy, and treatment efficacy depends on the empirical evidence that the systematic, controlled investigation of sexual abuse yields.

The Protection of Research Participants Is a Serious Concern, Especially in the Study of Sexual Aggression

Serious abuses in the use of participants in scientific studies has precipitated a much needed scrutiny of the procedures for soliciting participation in research and for protecting volunteers to studies from undo risk of harm. ATSA supports this scrutiny, the increased concern for the protection of participants, and the strengthening of research monitoring procedures. The concern for the protection of humans against all forms of abuse is central to ATSA's mission. Abuse can come in many guises, and it is important that in our attempts to find remedies to sexual and physical abuse we do not perpetrate another injustice in our research.

The Importance of Balancing Protection Needs and Strategies for Facilitating Research

Balancing the needs and priorities of various groups in the attempts to permit the systematic collection and evaluation of data necessary to inform practice and policy on sexual abuse is a complex process that requires careful scrutiny. ATSA believes that an even-handed consideration of all of the needs of survivors, perpetrators, and society must be taken into account. The importance of the knowledge gained in empirical investigations for both the sexual offenders whom we evaluate and treat and for the society we attempt to protect must be weighed heavily. It is critical that the increased concern for participant safety and choice does not create so many administrative impediments to research, especially research with minimal participant risks, that important empirical investigations are discouraged. Institutions should not feel the need to desist from allowing research altogether, because the procedures for assuring adequate protection are too cumbersome for their limited resources. This is especially true for research on juvenile offenders, where many small institutions have to be accessed to achieve adequate sampling. Discouraging minimal-risk research with excessive approval procedures does as much a disservice to the participants it aims to protect as does the disregard of important human participant rights.

ATSA supports --

  • the encouragement and increased funding of research on sexual aggression aimed at clarifying the etiology of sexual coercion to bolster primary prevention strategies, at improving assessment and prediction to improve dispositional decisions, and at testing intervention strategies to enhance their therapeutic efficacy.
  • the continuing efforts to maximize participant protection in this sensitive area of research.

But ATSA also recommends --

  • the streamlining of approval procedures for local institutions, when a project has been judged to involve minimal risk and has already been approved by an appropriate, federally-approved Institutional Review Board (IRB); and
  • the creation of more user-friendly documentation for local IRBs, not accustomed to making decisions about participant protection and research design.