Strategic in/visibility: Does agency make sex workers invisible?

Julie Ham, Alison Gerard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)
772 Downloads (Pure)


This article examines the links between in/visibility, agency and mobility through the narratives of 55 predominantly indoor sex workers interviewed in Melbourne, Australia, where state government regulations permit some forms of sex work under a licensing framework. This article explores the tensions around the requirement for visibility in the regulation of sex work, the utility of strategic invisibility in the lived realities of sex work, and the discursive invisiblising of sex workers' agency in anti-prostitution discourses. For the workers we interviewed, strategic invisibility was an agentic strategy that prevented stigma and protected social, economic and geographical mobility within and outside the sex industry. In Melbourne, workers' careful management of their invisibility as sex workers contrasted with the state's harm minimisation framework that insists on sex workers' visibility within healthcare and licensing systems. This article draws on empirical data to suggest that regulation through licensing can both alleviate and contribute to vulnerabilising contexts of sex work, providing useful lessons to those considering a similar system of regulation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)298-313
Number of pages16
JournalCriminology and Criminal Justice
Issue number3
Early online date2013
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014


Dive into the research topics of 'Strategic in/visibility: Does agency make sex workers invisible?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this