Skip to content

Risks of sex work

March 30th, 2005

Dr Petra

The physical risk to sex workers has long been recognised. Sex workers face physical and sexual assault from clients, partners and the public, along with being exposed to sexually transmitted infections. More recently an emotional toll has also been revealed, with verbal and psychological abuse targeted at sex workers by those in the neighbourhoods where they live and work, and by some partners, police, healthcare providers or punters.

Street sex workers are clearly at risk from many factors. But new research is indicating those working in indoor locations such as brothels, homes or for escort agencies are equally at risk.

The report “Behind Closed Doors: An Analysis of Indoor Sex Workers in New York City” by the Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Centre interviewed 52 sex workers and found nearly half (46%) had been sexually coerced or assaulted by clients.

Frequently, massage parlours or legalised brothels are seen as a ‘safer’ alternative to street work. However, without proper protection of sex workers, including supporting their right to a safe working environment, any location for sex work is potentially risky.

Some sex workers actively decide on their career. A larger proportion sell sex to make money to survive, given limited options to make money elsewhere. And some have no choice at all.

Regardless of how people end up in sex work, there needs to be greater efforts to understand the needs of sex workers, and offer them help and support so those who want to can work safely, and those who want to can exit. We cannot focus our efforts simply on getting people out of sex work, since it’s not always a quick or easy path to take. Indeed the ‘rescue industry’ has been viewed critically by many for causing distress to sex workers. We cannot only offer support to those who are no longer selling sex. Respectful care and support to current sex workers is also vital but often overlooked (particularly in international contexts, usually by those in positions of power – police and healthcare staff for example).

Violence and abuse is unacceptable, however you earn your living.

For further advice or help on issues relating to sex work, including health and safety, contact European network for HIV/STD prevention in prostitution

Comments are closed.