Researching Underage Sex Work: Dynamic Risk, Responding Sensitively, and Protecting Participants and Researchers

  • Natalie Thorburn
Reference work entry


Navigating ethical issues solely involving wholly competent adults who are physically safe and who play agentive roles in negotiating their social environments is often rife with difficulty. Navigating these ethical issues with human participants who are underage; or whose cognitive-emotional processes are potentially impacted by previous trauma; or who lack autonomy, freedom, or basic safety makes the preparation and execution stages of research exponentially more difficult. This chapter recounts the challenges inherent in the author’s experience of conducting research with adolescent sex workers, many of whom have complex trauma histories. It goes on to discuss the dynamic nature of risk as it relates to research with vulnerable populations, particularly in regard to physical safety, emotional and psychological safety, consent, confidentiality, and interpersonal power within the research relationship. Finally, methods of identifying and managing these risks are discussed.


Exploitation Feminist Methodology Prostitution Sensitive research Victims Violence Vulnerability 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The University of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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