Contentious issues in research on trafficked women working in the sex industry: study design, ethics, and methodology

J Sex Res. 2005 Nov;42(4):306-16. doi: 10.1080/00224490509552286.


The trafficking of women and children for work in the globalized sex industry is a global social problem. Quality data is needed to provide a basis for legislation, policy, and programs, but first, numerous research design, ethical, and methodological problems must be addressed. Research design issues in studying women trafficked for sex work (WTSW) include how to (a) develop coalitions to fund and support research, (b) maintain a critical stance on prostitution, and therefore WTSW (c) use multiple paradigms and methods to accurately reflect WTSW's reality, (d) present the purpose of the study, and (e) protect respondents' identities. Ethical issues include (a) complications with informed consent procedures, (b) problematic access to WTSW (c) loss of WTSW to follow-up, (d) inability to intervene in illegal acts or human rights violations, and (e) the need to maintain trustworthiness as researchers. Methodological issues include (a) constructing representative samples, (b) managing media interest, and (c) handling incriminating materials about law enforcement and immigration.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Australia
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / ethics
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / statistics & numerical data
  • Crime / ethics
  • Crime / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Crime / psychology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / psychology
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / statistics & numerical data
  • Ethics, Research
  • Female
  • Human Rights / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Human Rights / psychology
  • Human Rights / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Research Support as Topic / ethics*
  • Research Support as Topic / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Sex Work / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Sex Work / psychology
  • Sex Work / statistics & numerical data
  • Social Problems / ethics*
  • Social Problems / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Social Problems / psychology
  • Social Problems / statistics & numerical data