Jump to accessibility statement Skip to content

How does society view sex workers?

Home / More / News / How does society view sex workers?

Published on 04 January 2023


Society’s views of sex workers are often misunderstood and connected to sex trafficking, new research has found.

University of Sunderland student Chantelle Forrest’s Inequality and Society Master’s dissertation examined the confusion of sex trafficking with sex work and how this impacted on public opinions of the sex work industry.


The research saw 96 participants completing a survey regarding their understanding of what sex work and sex trafficking is.


Chantelle explained: “This information was analysed to draw findings that both fit with and contest popular sex work and trafficking theorem. The main takeaway from the study is the power that language holds when looking at such taboo topics within academic research.

“Whilst many participants were not meaning to conflate sex work with sex trafficking, the nuance within their language served to uphold negative stereotypes regarding who is involved in either industry.


“Another finding from the research surrounded the inability to acknowledge sex work as viable employment, which is indicative of the large amount of work needed for individuals in the industry to overcome stigma and secure professional legitimacy.”


Chantelle added: “I think the main take away from my dissertation would be to acknowledge that not everything that is seen, is all that is there.”

Recommendations from Chantelle’s research, include the need for further education about sex work and the need for policy reform in this area.

Findings from the dissertation, supervised by Dr Helen Williams, will now form the basis of Chantelle’s PhD, looking at how public opinions on sex workers impacts the workers themselves in different facets of their working and personal lives.

Dr Sarah Lonbay, Inequality and Society Module Leader, and Associate Professor of Social Sciences and Engagement, said: “Students studying on the Master’s programme undertake research on a range of topics of relevance to understanding and addressing inequalities in society.


“The dissertation allows students an opportunity to gain mastery in their understanding and analysis of social inequality/ inequalities and I’m really proud of the exceptional work that they complete.”


Chantelle, 24, from South Shields, who chose to study the Master’s after gaining her First-Class Sociology Degree from Sunderland, says: “My experience on the Inequality and Society Master’s has been life changing. It solidified my passion for fighting inequalities and equipped me with the tools to put that into practical application in the future.


“Alongside this, it was a very enjoyable and necessary step in what will hopefully be a long academic career teaching sociology at a Higher Education/Further Education level.”