ESCORT SERVICES IN A BORDER TOWN:
TRANSMISSION DYNAMICS OF STDS WITHIN AND BETWEEN COMMUNITIES
METHODOLOGICAL CHALLENGES CONDUCTING RESEARCH RELATED TO SEX WORK
Jacqueline Lewis, PhD and Eleanor Maticka-Tyndale, PhD
Department of Sociology & Anthropology
University of Windsor
A report to the Division of STD Prevention and
Control, Laboratory Centres for Disease
Grant # H1021-7-0241/001/SS
This report outlines some of the
methodological issues and challenges of
studying issues pertaining to the sex worker
and the sex work industry. Research for the report was conducted as
part of a project on the escort industry in Windsor, Ontario. Information for this report on
methodological challenges was obtained from six sources:
- Interviews were conducted with researchers from Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, South Peel,
Calgary, Victoria, Saskatoon. Although these were predominately academic researchers,
community workers doing small-scale research projects in connection with their agency's work
were also interviewed.
- Interviews with escorts, escort agency owners and agency personnel in Windsor.
- Interviews with exotic dancers in southwestern Ontario, gathered as part of another study.
- Interviews with licensing officers, police, and community agency representatives in Windsor and Calgary.
- Reports, dissertations, and publications based on research in London, Calgary, Toronto
- Information from sex worker organization websites and participation in a listserv dealing
with sex work issues.
MODELS OF RESEARCH
In practice the Classical Model is commonly used by researchers studying sex workers and the
sex work industry. This tendency has, however, begun to change as some feminist researchers
adopt partnership models and as sex workers increasingly question the legitmacy and
appropriateness of the Classical Model and research conducted by non-sex workers. An absense
of an organized sex worker community or sex worker organizations places limitations on the
models researchers can use.
- The Classical Model: Research questions and methodologies are determined by
researchers. Responsibility for and control of design and implementation of the research
rests exclusively with the researcher. The research is driven by the needs and interests of
the researcher, the larger research and academic community, and the organizations and
agencies that fund research.
- The Partnership or Collaborative Model: Sex workers and researchers form
partnerships for the purpose of conducting research. The research serves the needs of
both groups and each expects to learn from the other. At one extreme are partnerships
where the researchers carry the bulk of the authority and responsbility for the research
project and sex-worker partners participate in specific aspects of the project. At the other
extreme sex workers and researchers jointly establish the research questions and
methodology. A clear link between the interests and the needs of the researcher and sex
workers is a necessity of this model, as establishing functional trust between sex workers
- The Sex Worker as Researcher Model: Sex workers are the researchers who hire
academically trained researchers as consultants to their projects if they are needed. The
agenda and priorities are those of the researcher/sex worker.
FACTORS THAT IMPACT ON RESEARCH WITH SEX WORKERS
A variety of factors impact on the conduct of research on sex work, including:
- Historical relationships between sex workers and researchers
- Local initiatives and activities that affect sex workers
- International meetings and the internet
- Funding agency priorities and timetables
- Research agendas
- Locating, recruiting and retaining participants
- First projects
- Working with sex worker organizations
Ethical issues that exist for researchers studying sex workers and the sex work industry
are discussed throughout the report. The two ethical issues that are paramount when doing
research in this area are:
- Protecting confidentiality
- The researcher's role and obligationsHow each of these issues is dealt with enhance or inhibit the development of functional trust.
Recognition needs to be paid to the needs of those being studied and their knowledge and
expertise in the area. Researchers interested in studying sex work should consider modifying their
research models in order to involve sex workers more in the research process. This can be
achieved through moving to a partnership model and developing working relationships with sex
workers and sex worker organizations. By bringing community members onto projects,
researchers: facilitate access to study participants and the development of trust; increase the
knowledge base of the research team and the learning opportunities for study participants,
researchers and sex workers alike; and enhance the sensitivity of researchers, making them more
cognizant of the unique ethical issues that may arise in the course of the study and providing
advice on ways to deal with these issues in advance. However, such collaborations are difficult.
Funding agencies can help facilitate the formulation of research partnerships and the
successful completion of research projects by attending to the recommendations of researchers
and community organizations in the area. Strict agency priorities, interests, timetables and rules
only serve to bind the hands of researchers. They can limit the type of relationships that can be
developed with community members. They can also limit the scope of information that can be
gathered, including the ability to pursue important areas of inquiry, and jeopardize
relationships/partnerships established with community members by having long grant review
The very nature of living and working on the margins of society requires a state of
constant watchfulness, caution and scepticism in order to survive and maintain safety and well-being. The watchfulness and cautious scepticism must be applied not only to agents of the state,
such as police, but also to researchers whose work may purposefully or inadvertently jeopardize
the safety and well-being of those on the margins. Only when research works to decrease
marginalization will it be of obvious benefit to those it studies. This necessitates attention to the
needs of those being studied and the consequences of research for them.
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