Abstract: These Are Not My Words: The Importance of Member-Checking When Qualitatively Researching the Experiences of Survivors of Sexual Trauma (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

These Are Not My Words: The Importance of Member-Checking When Qualitatively Researching the Experiences of Survivors of Sexual Trauma

Friday, January 17, 2020
Liberty Ballroom J, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
December Maxwell, MSW, Doctoral student, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Johanna Thomas, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Fayetteville, AR
Background: Every 98 seconds someone in the United States is sexually assaulted (RAINN, 2019). Recent high-profile sexual assault cases, such as the Kavanaugh hearings, have inundated the American media and there have been widespread activism responses, such as the #metoo movement. In addition to media reporting on sexual trauma, social science researchers have also begun to study the media and public response to disclosure of sexual assault, as well as barriers that have prohibited victims from reporting their assaults. Participation in qualitative reports of victim’s experiences have been thought to be therapeutic for the victims as it offers a narrative platform and can be a segue to more formal processing such as psychotherapy (Franzway, Moulding, Wendt, Zufferey, & Chung, 2018). However, incongruence between the victim’s meaning and the report has the potential to create unnecessary friction, stress, and even re-traumatization for the victim participant (Wager, 2012). As such, member-checking, which is a validity and credibility process in qualitative research, that allows participants to give feedback and validation of their responses, should always be used when researching survivors of sexual trauma. Methods: Following an incident wherein an international news outlet interviewed one survivor author about a joint research project and reported incongruent results, the authors reflected on how important member-checking is when researching and reporting on survivor’s experiences. This paper utilized autoethnography to explore member-checking within research on sexual trauma survivors. In addition, a systematic review of the use of member-checking within qualitative research on sexual trauma survivors was conducted to evaluate use of member checking in qualitative sexual trauma research. Results: The autoethnography details the process of the authors as the reporting on one author’s experience with sexual trauma was incongruent with how it happened and how it was reported. The incongruence prompted triggering episodes and undue stress. As such, the autoethnography points to the importance of using member-checking in reporting on survivor’s stories as failure to report correctly can cause undue harm on participants. In addition, a systematic review of use of (or lack of) member-checking in qualitative research of sexual trauma survivors is used as support. Implications: To reduce harm to participants, member-checking is essential for social science researchers who plan to report on experiences of survivors of sexual trauma. In addition, those working with survivors can also increase credibility of their notes and reports by member-checking. News reporting on survivor’s experiences should also utilized member-checking before reporting on experiences to ensure no further harm comes to participants. In addition, regulating entities on research, such as internal review boards, might integrate member-checking requirements into research protocols dealing with survivors of sexual assault. Although included studies may have used member-checking and did not report it, it is also important to report when member-checking is used to increase credibility and validity of the findings.