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)
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.
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.
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.