Media Release: Mainstream Australian media promoted sex trade as an attractive option for vulnerable women during COVID-19 pandemic, investigation finds

An investigation into the relationship between the Australian media and the sex trade has found a number of Australian mainstream media publishers promoted and normalised the sex trade during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Side Hustles and Sexual Exploitation: Australian news media reporting and commentary on the sex industry during the COVID-19 pandemic is jointly authored by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATWA) and Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation. It will be released on International Women’s Day March 8.

The report examines sex industry reporting in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdowns. Women experienced increased rates of violence during the pandemic. Pre-existing vulnerabilities such as isolation and financial pressures were exacerbated by the pandemic, making women more at risk of targeting by the industry.

Researchers examined news articles and opinion pieces from 11 online Australian news sources from March 2020 to March 2021.  A total of 42% of articles portrayed the sex industry in a positive light, with only 18% reporting on the industry critically. (The remainder were neutral.) 

The report found women’s participation in prostitution was framed as an expression of their sexuality and autonomy, and a pathway to empowerment and personal fulfilment as well as a way of making significant amounts of money. 

Collective Shout Campaigns Manager Caitlin Roper said the attractive promotion served to prey on vulnerable and marginalised women, including indigenous women, migrant women and women of colour who are overrepresented in the industry.

“News media was not telling the stories of the majority of women and girls in prostitution who enter due to abuse, violence, poverty, and other vulnerabilities,” she said. 

Men’s violence against women in the sex trade was often framed as exceptional, with those perpetrating violence framed as ‘monsters’ or ‘one bad apple’ who did not represent the majority of sex buyers or brothel owners.

“Media presented violent sex buyers as troubled individuals rather than identifying the sex trade as a system of male violence against women and girls,” said Ms Roper.

“We found cases of violence and abuse were portrayed as taking place separate to the industry and disconnected from its commodification of women.”

The report concluded there was “a dominant narrative of the sex industry as a viable, and even desirable, career choice or aspirational lifestyle for women. In selling the sex industry to women in this way, we found the media was not only reporting about the sex industry but actively promoting it.

“In an industry based on the sexual objectification of women’s bodies, and various forms of male violence and exploitation of women and children, the Australian media’s endorsement of a reduction in regulation should be of significant concern to anyone who seeks to uphold the human rights of women and girls.” 

The report can be accessed here.

March 8, 2022


Caitlin Roper (Collective Shout) [email protected] 

CATWA: [email protected] 

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