Paulo Longo Research Initiative

Contact email:

The Paulo Longo Research Initiative  is a collaboration of scholars, policy analysts and sex workers. They aim to develop and consolidate and disseminate ethical, interdisciplinary information about sex work. to improve the human rights, health and well being of women, men and transgender people who sell sex.

PLRI brings together institutions and individuals committed to human rights and social justice and who have made significant contributions to the study of public health, gender, sexuality, development economics, migration, ethics and human rights in the context of sex work.

Core Partners

To receive regular updates about PLRI projects and resources please contact them. Because a key aim is to provide opportunities for sex workers and advocates in developing countries to strengthen their participation in developing knowledge sex workers groups and institutions in the Global South are particularly encouraged to contact them.

Sex work policy and research – room for improvement

The idea for the PLRI arose among activists who were frustrated by the quality of information on sex work that was available. Although there are many excellent books, essays and studies about sex work - including several by sex workers - a great deal of scholarship on sex work is misguided and stigmatising. Sex workers frequently complain that much of what is written about them reflects prejudices and myths rather than the reality of their lives. Advocates of rights based policy and programmes also complain frequently about the lack of quality research to provide evidence to guide their work.

The study of sex work has a complex history that reflects shifting understandings of links between prostitution, sex, gender and public health, law, economics and human rights. Research on sex work is made difficult by a lack of agreed standards and methodologies. Indeed generally accepted definitions of prostitution, sex work and sex workers do not exist. Ethical aspects of collecting information and producing knowledge about sex work have also been problematic with many claiming that the accepted ethical framework does not protect sex workers as individual research subjects or as an occupational or social group.

Literature dealing with commercial sex is uneven. For example, the role of female sex workers in HIV epidemics has been studied extensively while male and transgender sex workers have not, despite serious sub-epidemics in these communities. The economics of sex work, income redistribution and labour issues have received comparatively little attention despite the important roles they play in the lives of sex workers, their clients, families and the broader community. Most recently discussion about sex work has been reframed as a dialogue about human trafficking and sexual exploitation. As a result consideration of sex work has become linked to concerns over ‘criminal’ immigration, terrorism, drugs, HIV, poverty and gender inequality – whilst other areas key to the dynamics of commercial sex continue to be broadly overlooked.

The links between research and policy is a persistent concern. Sex workers rights advocates say that while poor and stigmatising research is frequently successfully promoted, higher quality research frequently remains scattered across academic journals and internet sites where it is not easily accessed by policy makers, advocates and programme implementers.