Columbia University (United States)


Sex work has been dramatically affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many sex workers may be facing the difficult decision between maintaining an income and protecting their health, a risk exacerbated by the explicit exclusion of sex workers from state-sponsored financial aid programs. Research is needed to define the needs of sex workers in the face of Covid-19, examine barriers to support programs, and identify avenues for supporting their health and well-being during and after the pandemic. We propose to conduct a sequential, mixed-methods research study comprising (i) in-depth interviews with active sex workers, (ii) textual analysis of online sex work activity, and (iii) iterative intervention development with stakeholders representing sex work communities. This project will build upon seminal theories of knowledge formation and dissemination that have been pivotal in supporting the health of sex workers in relation to HIV. Lessons from the HIV epidemic underscore the necessity of partnerships between social and medical research, but also partnerships between scientists and vulnerable communities to facilitate the design and implementation of effective prevention and support strategies. The proposed project will produce tangible recommendations to guide planning for efforts to support sex workers in the face of Covid-19 through intervention development, service delivery, and policy. This project will also advance understandings of the theoretical and practical roles that community-based social inquiry can play alongside medical research to improve the health and well-being of sex workers and other populations significantly impacted by Covid-19.

Principal Investigators

Denton Callander

Associate Research Scientist, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University

Denton Callander is a Canadian/Australian researcher based in New York City. He is a senior research fellow with the Spatial Epidemiology Lab at Columbia University and with the Sexual Health Program of the Kirby Institute for Immunity and Infection in Society at the University of New South Wales. His mixed-methods, interdisciplinary research focuses on sex, sexuality, and sexual health among diverse populations, including sex workers, transgender and gender diverse people, and gay and bisexual men. Dr. Callander's research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, and the Australian Research Council, along with several governmental health departments and private industry partners. He publishes regularly in leading journals of medicine, public health, sociology, and cultural studies, and is coediting a forthcoming book on the phenomenon of “sexual racism” for Oxford University Press. Dr. Callander is an avid science communicator, and is regularly interviewed by and publishes with outlets including National Public Radio, The Daily Beast, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. In 2017, he was named one of Australia's “Top 5 Researchers Under 30” for his research on the intersections of sexual health and technology.

‪Étienne Meunier

Associate Research Scientist, Columbia University

‪Étienne Meunier is a sociologist studying the sexual cultures and sexual health of sex and gender minorities with the Department of Sociomedical Sciences in the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. Dr. Meunier has published ethnographic, qualitative, and quantitative research on the impact of structural, contextual, and cultural factors on sexuality. He is currently working on NIH-funded studies looking at HIV treatment as prevention, group sex venues, and male sex work. His research on group sex behavior has shown how public health policies in New York City have pushed gay public sex venues (such as bathhouses) into clandestinity, creating new spaces and new forms of social-sexual practices that present both opportunities and challenges for sexual-health promotion. Dr. Meunier has conducted a harm-reduction training program for male sex workers in NYC and is currently coordinating an NIH-funded study exploring the risk-taking behaviors of men who find transactional sex partners online. He has also contributed work on HIV-related, NIH-funded studies with diverse populations including, for instance, HIV-affected heterosexual couples, HIV-positive crack-cocaine users, and heterosexual men and women who find sex partners online.