Sex work, migration and agency

This research investigates how im/migrant women sex workers negotiate their security, agency and mobility across sex work and migration regulatory frameworks in Melbourne, Australia and Vancouver, Canada.

Situating this exploration in Vancouver and Melbourne offers two different regulatory environments for sex work in cities that share a similar British settler/colonial history, numerous ethnic communities, and a similar urban ethos that values multiculturalism.

Sex work is legalised in Melbourne through a licensing framework (under state law), whereas many sex-work related activities in Vancouver are criminalised (under federal law), although sex work itself is not illegal in Canada.[1]

The research contributes to theoretical, empirical and practical work being done around sex work and migration issues:

  • Practically, this research aims to inform policy frameworks, service provision and social change strategies for im/migrant women in sex work by analysing the impact of sex work and migration regulatory frameworks on migrant women’s power and agency in sex work.
  • Empirically, this research will interrogate how migrancy and vulnerability are defined in sex work research.
  • Theoretically, this research explores a more contextual, dynamic understanding of agency beyond the static, polarised definitions of agency that remain central in current feminist debates around sex work.

[1] See sections 210-213 of the Canadian Criminal Code: . Under the Canada Criminal Code, it is illegal to own or occupy a ‘bawdy house’ (a place regularly used for sex work), live on the avails of prostitution (e.g. earnings), talk to a potential client in a public place (soliciting), or assist anyone to work in sex work (procuring).

Project Updates

  • Julie Ham recently submitted her PhD for examination. Her research has examined sex work, migration, citizenship, labour and identity. Julie undertook research in Australia and Canada for her fieldwork interviewing migrant women sex workers in Melbourne and Vancouver. She is now busy working on publications, undertaking research and enjoying this post-submission phase. Submission is a wonderful milestone and we ... Read more
  • BOb PhD candidate Julie Ham has been busy presenting her research on sex work and trafficking in persons at various public forums and conferences whilst she is conducting her fieldwork trip in Vancouver, Canada. She has also had a number of publications released in October-November on this research.   Conference and Public Forum Presentations   – “Sex workers’ perspectives ... Read more
  • ‘Reconciling sex workers rights within immigrant narratives’ and ‘Justifying gender violence: Demand based approaches in anti-trafficking’ were international conference presentations made recently BOb Graduate student Julie Ham. Julie has been busy presenting her research findings at conferences in Canberra and Spain, and she is currently based in Vancouver where she has begun her Canadian fieldwork ... Read more
  • Korean sex workers in Australia are often presented in the public and policy discourses as silenced, victimised figures, but this is not always the reality.  BOb’s Julie Ham and Jules Kim (from Scarlet Alliance) will discuss the lived realities of Korean sex workers in Australia at a panel they are presenting at the Korean Studies Association of Australasia conference in Canberra, ... Read more
  • At times the policy and funding environment’s attempts to address structural violence has ‘culturalised’ the issue of violence against CaLD sex workers.  Julie Ham (a Higher Degree Research Student at The Border Crossing Observatory) will be reflecting on this in her presentation “Moving from ‘vulnerable’ people to ‘vulnerabilising’ contexts: Supporting CaLD sex workers in Vancouver, Canada” at a conference organised ... Read more