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Zahra Stardust is an activist, researcher and socio-legal scholar working at the intersections of sexuality, technology and law.

Her doctoral research, which won the Dean’s award for Best PhD Thesis, examined the regulation of queer and feminist pornographies through criminal laws, classification codes and platform governance. Her forthcoming monograph Indie Porn explores DIY porn movements, resistance politics and precarious labour in gig economies.  

Zahra is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society at Queensland University of Technology. She is working on projects relating to sexual surveillance, algorithmic sexual profiling and the political economy of sextech. 

During her BKC Fellowship in 2020-21, Zahra facilitated a RightsCon panel on Alternative Frameworks for Sexual Content Moderation, hosted an event on Designing Sex Worker Liberatory Futures, and co-authored articles on Automating Whorephobia and High-Risk Hustling with colleagues from Hacking//Hustling and Decoding Stigma. As a 2021-22 BKC Affiliate she will explore new regulatory approaches to addressing the theft, piracy and non-consensual sharing of sex worker content online.

Zahra’s previous research has examined sex work stigma, post-work politics, queer femininities, sex positive law reform, trans prison policies, chemsex practices and the policing of public protest. Her original work has been published in books such as New Feminist Literary Studies (Cambridge University Press), Queer Sex Work (Routledge Series on Crime and Society) and Orienting Feminisms (Palgrave Macmillan) and is forthcoming in Undesiring Whiteness, Undoing Sexual Racism (Oxford University Press) and New Directions in Sexual Violence Research (Routledge). Her chapter in Navigating Fieldwork in the Social Sciences (Palgrave Macmillan) explored her experience as a sex working PhD candidate and her forthcoming chapter in the anthology Showgirls documents the role of stripper arts and culture in exposing fragile masculinity and male entitlement.

In addition, Zahra’s research has been published in journals such as the Journal of Sexual Health, Journal of Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, World Journal of AIDS, Porn Studies, Research for Sex Work, AG About Gender and Current Issues in Criminal Justice. She has also written for media such as ABC, Overland, New Matilda, Archer, The Conversation, Runway and Hustler Magazine, and been featured in articles for Vice, BBC News and SBS.  

Over the last 15 years Zahra has worked in policy, advocacy, legal and research capacities with community organisations, NGOs and UN bodies on human rights and social justice projects in Australia and internationally, including UNFPA in Eritrea (on sexual and reproductive health programming), UN Women (on gender discrimination), the Environmental Defenders Office (assisting activists on criminal charges), Scarlet Alliance (on sex worker rights), ACON (on HIV treatment & prevention and LGBTIQA+ health), the Inner City Legal Centre (assisting people experiencing domestic and family violence), the Women’s Justice Network (assisting women exiting prison) the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (on vilification and anti-discrimination), the Kimberley Land Council (on Native Title claims) and as a member of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights. She is currently working on a collaborative project with UNESCO about how automated content moderation practices impact sex education.  

Zahra has consulted with Google and Facebook and presented at conferences in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Singapore, Australasia and Japan, including as an invited speaker for the International Bar Association. She has studied at the Summer Institute on Sexuality, Culture and Society at the University of Amsterdam and the Summer Doctoral Program at the University of Oxford Internet Institute, and is on the Editorial Board of international journal Porn Studies and a peer reviewer for Culture, Health and Sexuality. She hosts the podcast Thinking Justice, which brings together voices of organisers, academics and critical thinkers challenging us to imagine and create alternative futures. She lives on stolen and unceded land of the Turrbal and Jagera people known by its colonial name of Brisbane, Australia.
 


Community

Autonomy

Sex work, automation and the post-work imaginary

Zahra Stardust and Helen Hester envision a post-work future that is more equitable for sex workers.

Sep 13, 2021
The Conversation

NSW Police want access to Tinder’s sexual assault data. Cybersafety experts explain why it’s a date with disaster

Zahra Stardust and colleagues on cybersecurity and dating apps

Apr 28, 2021
Tryst

Financial discrimination against sex workers, and what we can do about it.

Zahra Stardust explains how the financial industry uses incorrect assumptions about sex work to unfairly deny workers service.

Mar 19, 2021
BKC Medium Collection

Movement Lawyering for Alternative Futures

Five community members speak about their vexed relationships to the law

Jan 4, 2021
BKC Medium Collection

What can tech learn from sex workers?

Zahra Stardust and colleagues reflect on what tech would look if it was designed by sex workers

Dec 16, 2020

Events

Apr 8, 2021 @ 12:00 PM

Decoding Stigma: Designing for Sex Worker Liberatory Futures

Video & Podcast: Featuring Zahra Stardust, Gabriella Garcia, Chibundo Egwuatu, Yin Q

Video & Podcast: A panel discussion about what the Internet might look like if it was designed by sex workers and how we might code sex worker ethics into future design.