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Research on sex workers has traditionally focused on issues of sexual health and violence; however, information on working conditions across different workplace types, and on workers’ education, parental and relationship status, is increasingly being collected through surveys and small-scale qualitative research approaches (eg see Donovan et al. 2012; Perkins & Lovejoy 2007; Woodward et al. 2004). Although current research on sex workers often includes those who are migrants, existing literature specifically on migrant sex workers is relatively limited. This is despite widespread media reporting on the perceived relationship between migrant sex workers and trafficking, and documented cases of migrant sex workers experiencing exploitation and human trafficking (IDC 2014). In order to address this gap the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC), in partnership with Scarlet Alliance, the Australian Sex Workers Association, initiated a project to explore the demographics, work conditions, migration experiences and access to services of migrant sex workers in Australia. This research was undertaken as part of the AIC’s Human Trafficking and Slavery Research Program.

Research aims

The research aims of this project included an examination and identification of the migration experiences of migrant sex workers, sex workers’ experiences in Australia, the working conditions migrant sex workers may face compared with non-migrant sex workers in Australia, and the extent of sex workers’ access to services and information. The specific research questions included the following:

  • What are the migration experiences of migrant sex workers? Detailed questions included:
    • What birth countries and home countries have sex workers migrated to/from?
    • What are the monetary costs, barriers and rewards associated with migration and how are these borne?
    • What processes are experienced by sex workers in entering Australia (specifically the actions undertaken to arrange transport and documents for their journey to Australia) and how does this vary depending on the birth and home countries from which they migrated?
    • What factors play a role in migrant sex workers’ decision to relocate to Australia?
  • What are the workplace experiences of migrant sex workers and how do these vary from non-migrant sex workers?
  • What are the basic workplace conditions (eg workload, payment, conditions of employment) experienced by migrant sex workers? Detailed questions included:
    • To what extent do these conditions vary between migrant and non-migrant sex workers?
    • To what extent are migrant sex workers satisfied with their workplace conditions, and how does this compare with non-migrant sex workers?
    • Do workplace conditions and satisfaction with workplace conditions vary with sex workers’ home country and socioeconomic status in their home country (such as employment and education)?
    • What (if any) negative experiences have migrant sex workers had with people in the workplace environment?
  • Which specialised services (sexual health clinics, sex worker organisations and interpreter services) and government representatives have sex workers interacted with in the context of the workplace, and what was the level of this interaction?
  • What services do migrant sex workers use, which are they familiar with, and what issues do they use them for?
  • Do migrant sex workers experience difficulties in accessing these services?
  • Where do migrant sex workers receive information and advice?
  • How readily do sex workers identify government departments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as their main place of contact for certain issues? How does this vary with non-migrant sex workers?
  • Do sex workers identify the police as the main point of contact for issues relating to criminal incidents? Does this vary between migrant and non-migrant workers?

A literature review was conducted and a survey of sex workers implemented to examine these questions.

Last updated
3 November 2017