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Contact Details

+64 3 364 3619
Emeritus Professor
Department of Population Health (Christchurch)
MPH DipTech DPH, PhD
Research summary
Vulnerable populations


Professor Gillian Abel's early background was in haematology before taking a career change to public health. She joined the Department of Public Health and General Practice at the University of Otago, Christchurch in 1997 and holds a PhD in public health from this University.

Gillian is expert in mixed methods research using community-based participatory approaches. Her research focuses on vulnerable populations such as sex workers, vulnerable youth and Pacific people. Sex work is a field in which she has extensive expertise. Her research in this field is firmly located in public health but she applies a sociological lens by analysing data in the context of structural opportunities and constraints faced by sex workers, drawing on concepts of stigma; theories of social exclusion; theories of risk; and feminist theories.

She led a large Health Research Council funded national research project looking at the impact of the Prostitution Reform Act (2003) on the health and safety of sex workers and this study has been influential in informing policy both in New Zealand and internationally. She is currently a collaborator on a large Canadian team project looking at vulnerabilities in the Canadian sex industry.

Gillian teaches two papers in the post-graduate Diploma in Public Health and also teaches into the undergraduate medical programme. She has supervised many students on a variety of public health and health sciences topics.

She is particularly keen to supervise Masters and PhD students with an interest in

  • Vulnerable or stigmatised population groups
  • Community-based research approaches
  • Qualitative and mixed methods research approaches
  • Publications

    Scoular, J., Sanders, T., Balderston, S., Abel, G., Brents, B., Ellison, G., & Marriott, N. (2023). Understanding sexual violence in sex working populations: Law, legal consciousness and legal practice in four countries (2021-2023): Study protocol v2.5. PLoS ONE, 18(11), e0283067. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0283067 Journal - Research Other

    Ball, J., Pettie, M. A., Poasa, L., & Abel, G. (2023). Understanding youth drinking decline: Similarity and change in the function and social meaning of alcohol use (and non-use) in adolescent cohorts 20 years apart. Drug & Alcohol Review. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1111/dar.13685 Journal - Research Article

    Weinhold, C., Abel, G., & Thompson, L. (2023). “They wouldn't get away with it at McDonalds”: Decriminalization, work, and disciplinary power in New Zealand brothels. Gender, Work & Organization, 30, 18-34. doi: 10.1111/gwao.12893 Journal - Research Article

    Dixon, R., Abel, G., & Burrows, L. (2023). A case for connecting school-based health education in Aotearoa New Zealand to critical health literacy. Curriculum Studies in Health and Physical Education, 14(2), 127-142. doi: 10.1080/25742981.2022.2082310 Journal - Research Article

    Abel, G. (2023). “You’re selling a brand”: Marketing commercial sex online. Sexualities, 26(3), 354-371. doi: 10.1177/13634607211056189 Journal - Research Article

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