No Exit? Sex work, ‘exiting’ ideologies and transitioning programs in Australia

Dr Larissa Sandy1
1RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia

‘Exiting’ is an emerging area of interest in sex work research, and although government funded transitioning programs for sex workers have been operating in Australia since the early 2000s, there is little publicly available information and research about these programs. Based on a review of the literature and case studies drawn from interviews with organisations providing transitioning services in Australia and New Zealand, in this paper I discuss the main ideological underpinnings of existing models of ‘exiting’ that frame sex work as either an illegal activity, an immoral activity, a form of violence against women or a social problem to show how these framings have come to shape how services are delivered to sex workers.

The paper unpacks dominant transitioning models developed from an understanding of sex work as deviance and, as a violation of human rights, a form of violence against women in order to explore some of the factors influencing the design of programs that differ significantly from more traditional career transitioning programs. It also explores the ways in which program frameworks grapple with addressing choice, agency and labour rights, and reflects on what it might mean to shift focus in transition programming and engage in the work using a rights-based framework and an understanding of sex work as work.


Larissa Sandy is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Justice Studies at RMIT University, Australia. Before joining RMIT, she was a Vice Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Criminology at Flinders University and a Research Fellow in the International HIV program at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (La Trobe University) as well as a Research Analyst at the Australian Institute of Criminology. She has published widely on sex work and human trafficking, including numerous articles and other publications and is the author of Women and Sex Work in Cambodia: Blood, sweat and tears (Routledge, 2014).



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