Ethical Standards for Paranormal Investigations
As more people are either having experiences with the paranormal or merely a curious interest, paranormal investigation and ghost hunting groups are on the rise. Some people consider themselves to be serious paranormal researchers, whereas other are just hobbyists just doing it for fun. However, what sets these two distinct groups apart is whether they adhere to certain ethical standards that distinguishes them as professionals or hobbyists.
Even if you are just getting into the paranormal field as an individual or a group, keep in mind that there are a few basic ethical standards when it comes to paranormal investigation and ghost hunting. For most serious investigators, the paranormal and investigations isn't some sort of game or a way to get a scare or a laugh. The paranormal field is coupled with personal beliefs and experiences, as well as utilizing scientific methods. Therefore it is not only right to respect these possible supernatural occurrences but the clients and locations as well.
Obtaining Permission and Permits
Many people who go out on ghost hunts and paranormal investigation do not even realize that just because a place is claimed to be haunted, this doesn't mean this gives you a right to trespass. Even still, if a place is thought to be abandoned it is still technically owned by someone and therefore it is disrespectful and illegal to be on the property without prior permission.
Keep in mind that just getting verbal permission isn't always enough. Some locations, such as government owned properties, require special permits. One such case is cemeteries. In most places it is illegal to be in a cemetery after dark. In fact, if you are caught you may have to pay fines or even serve jail time. Even if the location is considered public or private property, it is a good idea to get the permission to be on the property during the set time of the investigation.
Once you have the required permits or permission affidavits, make sure you have them handy on the investigation. This will make it easy if you have any problems with security or law enforcement.
When it comes to dealing with clients, all paranormal investigators and ghost hunters should behave in a professional manner from the time of the client contact and interview all the way through the investigation and presenting evidence. Being polite and respectful to a client should go without saying. Remember that a paranormal investigation starts from the moment a potential client contacts you until you present the client with your findings at the close of an investigation.
Although sometimes humorous things happen on a paranormal investigation, keep the horseplay and pranks out of the investigation. Also, make sure you respect the client's property and return it in the same condition as they left it to you.
Meeting with a Client
Every investigator should dress appropriately when meeting with a client. You don't necessarily have to get all dressed up as if going to the corporate office, but you shouldn't dress like a slob either. First impressions matter and taking pride in your appearance will also reflect your level of professionalism.
If you or your team has shirts, which represent or advertise your paranormal group, this is a good thing to wear on investigations. Consider creating a dress code or uniform for all members in your group. If you prefer the comfortably of wearing jeans on an investigation, be sure they are free from stains, holes, and rips. Wearing shorts or capris isn't always a good idea, especially if you are investigating outside. Again, this will depend on the location but upon first meeting with a client, consider wearing pants instead until you are more familiar with the investigation site.
Client Forms and Reports
In addition to permits and affidavits, paranormal investigators who conduct themselves in a professional manner usually have a variety of forms for the client to fill out and sign. Consider having a packet made ahead of time with forms such as release forms and references from other clients.
Release forms may include releasing the client from any responsibility if an investigator is injured on the property to a release form granting or denying sharing any evidence with the public. When it comes to client references, these are references from previous clients. This could be a simple after investigation questionnaire survey, which should also be include in the new client package for them to return to you later. And remember, no paranormal group or individual investigator should misrepresent themselves in any way.
Publicizing Evidence and Client Information
Everywhere you turn, paranormal evidence is presented all across the internet, whether in pictures, video, or audio without any thought to the client's privacy or feelings on the matter. Not all clients want their location or personal property advertised to the world. Also, make sure that you further protect the privacy of your client by not giving out or advertising personal information.
This is where a release for comes in handy. The release form allows for everything to be "spelled out" on what can be publicized or shared as well as what information and evidence should be kept confidential. This form protects both the client and the investigator from legal misunderstandings that could land all parties in court. Also, having this form increases your credibility and shows that you or your groups respect and professionalism toward the client.
Respect the Location
Back to respecting the location in a professional manner, there are some things to consider when at a location. Be careful as to not damage or destroy property in any way. If you want to use an item from the location as a "trigger object", be sure to check with the client ahead of time and be respectful with the object. This could be included in with one of the release forms prior to the onsite investigation.
Also, do not dig on the location without the clients permission. In some cases you can ask for prior permission depending on the background and experiences of the location. However, sometimes you may need to stop the investigation or come back for a follow up after you have spoken with the client about digging and why.
Interview with Ben Hansen of SyFy's Fact or Faked:Paranormal Files
Many paranormal investigators and ghost hunters get a little overexcited when on an investigation or analyzing evidence. Keep in mind that not everything is paranormal. Some things that occur may have a logical explanation. Whether it is a drafty window causing a cool breeze or a door shutting to an investigator whispering or human voices off in the distance, all logical explanations must be examined first.
This is where objectivity comes in. Although you are really wanting to believe you have captured evidence, make sure it can't be debunked. If you have examined every possible explanation logically and there is still no explanation, then you can present it as possible paranormal evidence. When it comes to paranormal investigations, one cannot go by intuition alone. And even still, the reason for saying "possible" paranormal evidence is because perhaps there was a logical explanation that you hadn't thought of. By presenting evidence as "possible", it eliminates misrepresentation and tainting your credibility if a logical explanation arises at a later time.
False Claims and Hoaxes
The 21st century as brought us advancements in cameras, special effects and editing software. In today's age, it is easy to create a video that looks real and believable. This poses a challenge to paranormal investigators who are serious about the field. Professional paranormal investigators have to look at each visual and audio piece of evidence with a healthy skepticism. Some clients may sincerely believe in the evidence presented as tangible, but there could be logical explanations as well. Even still, some may try to "test" the investigator and set them up for creating more false claims or hoaxes.
More often than not, it isn't the client's evidence that needs to be questioned. It is generally the paranormal investigator's audio and video evidence that is put under a microscope. Some unprofessional paranormal investigators will actually create audio and video that will make it appear the place is haunted when it is just some simple editing through editing software. After all, ghost and the paranormal in general don't always perform on command but faking evidence isn't the answer.
This isn't to say all paranormal investigators do this. This is to remind serious paranormal investigators that it is be to say that the evidence is inconclusive than to create false evidence. It is unprofessional to mislead a client or the public in general.
Working with Other Paranormal Investigation Groups
There is a growing trend in the paranormal investigation community that is slowly destroying credibility to the paranormal field. This is when paranormal investigators and ghost hunters talk negatively about one another. This is simply not professional by any means. In fact, it is childish behavior that displays a lack of maturity.
Even if you may disagree with another group or individual about possible evidence or paranormal theory, remember just that - it is all theory and sometime speculative. It is okay to disagree with someone, but remember to do so in a respectful, professional manner. Remember that you are not only representing your credibility and reputation but if you are working with a group you are representing them and their credibility and professionalism as well.
If you have been invited or interesting in investigating a location outside of your area, consider contacting local paranormal groups. You can even practice this locally, especially if there are several group in your local area. Contacting other paranormal groups allow you to listen to their experiences and possible look at their findings. If doing so before your investigation, this may help you zone-in on the "hot spots" and save some time.
You could also offer to share any evidence or experience from the location with other paranormal groups in the area as a way of comparing notes. However, keep in mind to respect the confidentiality agreement regarding sharing evidence and information.You could add a special section in the agreement that addresses the difference between sharing evidence with other paranormal groups and the public. If the client agrees to sharing information with a local paranormal group but not with the public, be sure the group you are sharing this with understands and possibly receives a copy of the signed agreement so they are aware that they cannot share the information with the public. This is not only a good, professional practice but a good legal practice as well.
What is your level of interest in the paranormal?
Giving Credit Where Credit is Due
Sharing information and evidence can be a sensitive situation. To maintain your credibility and professionalism, be sure to give credit where credit is due. Recognize which member was responsible for capturing the evidence. This will not only increase your credibility as a team but the credibility of the individual.
If you are sharing evidence from another paranormal group and/or investigator with your own evidence, be sure to distinguish the difference and make the client or public aware that the evidence is from difference investigations. Again, this is simply professional courtesy and will set you and your group a part from the hobbyist.
Omitting Findings from Client
Don't be apprehensive about presenting findings to a client. After all, they did contact you to investigate so chances are they want to know what your conclusions are. If you don't plan to sit down with a client to discuss the findings of the investigation you are wasting the client's time, along with appearing unprofessional.
After talking with the client prior to the investigation, most paranormal investigators know what the client is looking for. Some clients are eager for you to find paranormal evidence but it is important that you maintain professionalism. This means that if your evidence is inconclusive or may have logical explanations, you should still inform the client even if they may be disappointed. Never create evidence just to appease the client. This will diminish your credibility.
If you pick up on the fact that the client may be scared of the paranormal be gentle in presenting any paranormal evidence. Do so in a way that takes the fear of the paranormal out of the equation. If you find evidence that may raise alarms that the client should be wary of the activity, be willing to counsel and refer to methods or groups that can possibly help get rid what is causing the paranormal activity.
In summary, every paranormal investigator and ghost hunter should treat the client with the utmost respect by behaving in a professional manner. This extends out to fellow colleagues and respecting the location itself. Even if you consider paranormal investigation as just a fun hobby, still behaving in a professional manner will reflect back on your character as a person. It may also determine whether you are invited back for further investigation or get a chance to investigate a different location.
© 2014 Linda Soaring Eagle Sarhan