May-Len Skilbrei's recent research covers questions of migration, gender and immigration policies. She has explored these topics through empirical studies of prostitution and human trafficking, marriage, irregular migration and return migration. She is currently heading a research project on credibility assessment in the asylum process based on surveys and qualitative interviews with immigration officers.
Skilbrei’s main research areas are prostitution and human trafficking. She has since the mid-1990s researched women’s experience with selling sex at both indoors and street venues. As prostitution markets and policies have changed, Skilbrei has turned her attention to the relationship between prostitution and human trafficking, among other things, exploring how trafficking is delineated from prostitution in the everyday experience and narratives of migrants who sell sex, and how such a division is made in media, court and White Papers. Her research also deals with criminal justice and social welfare responses to prostitution and human trafficking.
She is currently heading a research project on social and health services for women who sell sex and victims of trafficking. As a part of that project, she has together with Charlotta Holmström at Malmö University written a book comparing and contextualising Nordic prostitution policies.
In her research on prostitution and trafficking, Skilbrei explores questions of gender, sexuality, class, power and identity. She has approached these topics and applied these perspectives also in other empirical fields. Her PhD work was on gender, class and ethnicity in how unskilled work is represented and in how workers self-represent, and she has later written on how gender and class plays a part in how perpetrators of serious crimes are represented in media.
Skilbrei is currently the vice-chair of the COST Action Comparing European Prostitution Policies: Understanding Scales and Cultures of Governance that will run until 2017. She is also on the editorial board of the Norwegian language academic journal Sosiologi i dag, and is the head of the board of the Centre for Women's and Gender Research at the University of Tromsø.