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Violence against women and their children affects everybody. It impacts on the health, wellbeing and safety of a significant proportion of Australians throughout all states and territories and places an enormous burden on the nation’s economy across family and community services, health and hospitals, income-support and criminal justice systems.

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ANROWS hosts events as part of its knowledge transfer and exchange work, including public lectures, workshops and research launches. Details of upcoming ANROWS activities and news are available from the list on the right.

ANROWS

About ANROWS

ANROWS was established by the Commonwealth and all state and territory governments of Australia to produce, disseminate and assist in applying evidence for policy and practice addressing violence against women and their children.

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To support the take-up of evidence, ANROWS offers a range of resources developed from research to support practitioners and policy-makers in delivering evidence-based interventions.


EXTERNALLY FUNDED RESEARCH PROJECTS

Improving service pathways: The COVID-19 pandemic and the experiences of women and gender-diverse people in the sex industry (Greater Melbourne region)

Background

The impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic has resulted in women’s increased vulnerability to family, domestic and sexual violence (FDSV) and further placed enormous pressure on the service response system to intervene effectively. In Victoria, and metropolitan Melbourne in particular, the extended city-wide lockdowns and government-mandated restrictions of movement over the last two years has further aggravated the risk for and severity of FDSV experienced by women. New patterns of control and abuse have been used to exploit the conditions of social isolation and economic uncertainty brought on by the pandemic (Fitz-Gibbon, et al., 2020; Pfitzner et al., 2020).

Women in the sex industry are experiencing additional challenges that are intensifying the risk of violence as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Women in the sex industry are now identified by the Victorian government as a "diverse group" on account of intersecting complexities (in addition to FDSV), such as housing insecurity and homelessness, substance use, mental health, discrimination, and stigma, that affect them disproportionately to the general population.

This pilot study will contribute to greater understanding of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women in the sex industry and build knowledge of FDSV at its intersection with the sex industry. It will provide crucial data to add to the existing state and national evidence-base on violence against women. These results will assist government and community organisations in improving service pathways and providing better access to support services.

Aim

The study seeks to address current gaps by documenting the needs of women at the intersection of FDSV and the sex industry in the Greater Melbourne region. Through surveys and qualitative, semi-structured interviews with both women in the sex industry and key organisation stakeholders, the pilot study will draw together existing knowledge, experiences and sector innovations to improve service pathways and outcomes for women and gender-diverse people in the sex industry.

Methods

The study proceeds in four overlapping phases, adopting a mixed-method approach to data collection and analysis:

1. Review of data examining the prevalence and nature of FDSV experienced by women in the Australian sex industry. This report will produce an integrative literature review of existing knowledge in this area, focusing on decriminalised or legalised states.

2. A survey tool covering a two-year period from March 2020. The survey will measure violence indicators during the COVID-19 pandemic and government shutdowns in Melbourne, and record existing enablers and barriers to support services and service pathways for women and gender-diverse people across Melbourne's sex industry.

3. Key informant interviews with external organisations offering support to women and gender-diverse people in the sex industry over the last two years.

4. Interviews with women and gender-diverse people with lived experience of the sex industry to identify the specific needs of and responses for women experiencing FDSV at the intersection of the sex industry with a view to improve access to service pathways moving forward from the pandemic.

Significance

Benefits to the participants and community include identification of the specific needs of vulnerable individuals across the sex industry in Melbourne. This diverse population often intersects with other risk factors and vulnerabilities: housing insecurity and homelessness, unemployment, mental health, drug misuse, and visa insecurities, as well as experiences of family and sexual violence. On account of the matrices of complexities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic in Melbourne, it has become essential that immediate action be taken in order to identify the gaps in unmet needs. It has become vital to respond effectively to the barriers affecting vulnerable populations, such as women in the sex industry and women at risk of human trafficking for sexual exploitation. Family violence and sexual assault have been identified nationally and globally as key issues that have affected women’s safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. This pilot study will be of benefit to this service sector in providing greater understanding around the complexity and intersection of issues that affect women in the sex industry and women experiencing trafficking or at risk of trafficking for sexual exploitation. Benefits to participants from the sex worker population in Melbourne further include the opportunity to contribute to policy and system change that will improve their access to support services. The opportunity exists to highlight the gaps in the current system that pose barriers to accessing or receiving the correct support according to their individual experiences.

Funding Body

Victorian Government

Project start date

September 2022

Expected completion date

February 2023
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