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RhEDNot a Sex Worker?Research and the Sex Industry

Research and the Sex Industry

RhED encourages students and researchers to participate in research that helps educate the wider community about the complexities of sex work and to break down the stigma and discrimination that sex workers experience.

Sex workers are experts in their own field – don’t assume your research is needed or will ‘solve problems’.

When researching the sex industry, please be mindful of what other people have contributed to the debate:

“… In many countries sex workers already refuse to be involved in research because they can’t see anything in it for them. After all, why would sex workers give freely of their information and knowledge and then it is used to suppress their livelihood,” (Metzenrath, in van der Meulen 2011 p373)

‘An unfortunate consequence of much sex work research is that it can reaffirm the perception that sex workers lack the ability to make informed decisions about their lives and work.’ Additionally, ‘conventional research on sex work does little to help illuminate questions such as how sex workers are engaging in community change and in struggles for their human rights’ (van der Meulen 2011 p371).

Sex workers have a long-standing belief of ‘nothing about us without us,’ which applied initially to activism around legal and health decisions that were made for sex workers with no contribution from sex workers. The belief can be applied in research settings as well, when researchers see sex workers as “objects to be studied, rescued, corrected or controlled,” (Kenny 2006 p23) rather than as active participants in the research process.


Participatory Action Research

“It is participatory in the sense that people can only do action research “on” themselves, either individually or collectively. It is not research done “on” others, (Kemmis & McTaggart 2005 p567.)

It “can be a highly effective way to challenge problematic conceptualizations and to ensure that the voices of the community are not overshadowed by ideology,” (van der Meulen 2011 p 379.)



Kemmis, S. and McTaggart, R. (2005) Participatory Action Research in Denzin, N. and Lincoln, Y. (eds) Handbook for Qualitative Research 3rd Edition, Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications 563-568

Kenny, S. 2006. The Nature of Community Development, in Developing Communities for the Future. Melbourne: Thomson 3-37,

van der Meulen, E. 2011 Action research with sex workers: Dismantling barriers and building bridges SAGE Action Research 2011 9: 370

van der Meulen, E. (2011a). Participatory and action-oriented dissertations: The challenges and importance of community-engaged graduate research. The Qualitative Report, 16(5), 1291-1303