Coordinating research and informing policy in sex work

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We have previously written about the need for the sex work research community to influence the overall research agenda to ensure that resources are directed to research that is responsible, responsive to need and that informs public and social policy.

We are acutely aware of a number of problems with sex work research. There are major gaps in our knowledge, much of the scope of the work is disproportionate to reality (e.g. focussing on the relatively small street sector, i.v. drug users and survival sex), and for much of the work it is difficult to comprehend how it could benefit sex workers and others who exchange sex and intimacy. In this way it often entrenches ill-informed social attitudes rather than enlightens them. Academics have been accused, not without some justification, of living in ivory towers, making their reputations off the backs of sex workers, publishing in little-read obscure journals and being irrelevant to the general understanding of the subject. In many cases past lapses of professionalism have created a gulf of mistrust between the sex work community and the academy, and perhaps of most concern, public policy bears little relation to what is known, but is rather driven by moral panic and moral crusade. 

The time has come to change, driven not only by realisation of past deficiencies, but by new winds of change in science that stress interdisciplinary co-ordination, transparency, and rapid dissemination of results and their application. The public and legislators have higher expectations of accountability in terms of seeing the results of research translated into real change and benefit in the world in which they live. We also need to be responsive in a timely fashion to new developments, policy initiatives and media reports, to ensure that they are sound.

There is also an ethical obligation for us to ensure that the contributions of subjects in research add to the pool of knowledge and benefit others like themselves. That is why they consented to participate. 

One new initiative in terms of changing the way researchers both within and across disciplines interact with each other and with the people that really matter, sex workers, is a series of national and regional knowledge networks, taking advantage of evolving technology, and social media. The latest of these, following on succesful launches in the United Kingdom and Canada, is the US Centre for Sex Work Research and Policy.

An obvious example of the need to provide sound and balanced input is the drive to criminalise the indoor sex market in Rhode Island. 

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