Consent, coercion and autonomy: Underage sex work in Aotearoa New Zealand


  • Natalie Thorburn University of Auckland



underage sex work, abuse, violence, consent, adolescents, prostitution


INTRODUCTION: Adolescents’ involvement in sex work in New Zealand has been associated with a range of adverse effects on physical, psychological, and social well-being, and is framed by domestic legislation and international obligations.

AIM: The study aimed to ascertain the nature of adolescents’ experiences of sex work, and how their current and past environments impacted on their understanding of their involvement in sex work.

METHODS: Semi-structured interviews were used with a sample of eight adolescents aged 16-20 who became involved with sex work between ages 12 and 16.

FINDINGS: The study found that participants’ exposure to physical and sexual abuse in childhood had informed their internal working models of normative gendered behaviour. These models were then reinforced by exposure to the gendered power differential inherent in the sex work sub-culture. Participants experienced sexual experiences as being solely dictated by men, and frequently normalised transgressions against physical and/or sexual integrity.

CONCLUSION: The prevalence and acceptance of gendered harm among this population group indicates the need to appropriately address vulnerable adolescents’ abuse histories, challenge restrictive conceptions of gender, and actively combat the pervasive presence of gendered violence and inequality among this population group.


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How to Cite

Thorburn, N. (2016). Consent, coercion and autonomy: Underage sex work in Aotearoa New Zealand. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 28(1), 34–42.



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