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Legal Duties of Researchers to Protect Participants in Child Maltreatment Surveys: Advancing Legal Epidemiology


Ben Mathews

Studies of the prevalence of child maltreatment respond to a public policy imperative to better understand and prevent child abuse and neglect. These studies span domains of law, public health, and legal epidemiology. When conducting them, researchers must comply with legal duties to protect research participants. Australia has a complex legal environment, with additional challenges when participants are children, or are in danger. Duties arise in three bodies of law, vary across States and Territories, and require statutory interpretation, conceptual analysis, and operationalisation. This article conducts the first comprehensive analysis of researchers’ legal duties to protect participants in child maltreatment surveys. It contributes new understandings of the operation of mandatory reporting duties in child protection law, duties to report child abuse offences in criminal law, and the duty of care in negligence law. The analysis informs conclusions about the applicability of these duties, and indicates a legally compliant, ethically sound, and operationally practicable approach. Findings are relevant to multiple settings.

Access the full article here or via PDF link to the left.

(2022) 45(2) UNSWLJ 722: