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Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An Update on Violence and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

NCJ Number
Journal of Trauma Practice Volume: 2 Issue: 3/4 Dated: 2003 Pages: 33-74
Melissa Farley; Ann Cotton; Jacqueline Lynne; Sybille Zumbeck; Frida Spiwak; Maria E. Reyes; Dinorah Alvarez; Ufuk Sezgin
Date Published
This study examined the current and lifetime sexual and physical abuse of prostitutes in nine countries and measured their symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Previous studies of prostitution have established that women involved in prostitution have overwhelmingly faced a lifetime of sexual, physical, and emotional violence. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can result when individuals experience extreme traumatic stressors such as a violent personal assault. The current study expands on previous research that examined violence preceding and intrinsic to prostitution and the symptoms of PTSD resulting from participation in prostitution in five countries. The authors interviewed 854 people involved with prostitution in nine countries: Canada, Colombia, Germany, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, the United States, and Zambia. The Prostitution Questionnaire was used to gain information about lifetime physical and sexual abuse and the use of or making of pornography during prostitution. Participants also completed the PTSD Checklist, which assesses the 17 DSM-IV symptoms of PTSD. Results of statistical analyses indicate that violence is prevalent within the world of prostitution and tends to be multi-traumatic. Of the 854 participants, 71 percent had been physically assaulted in prostitution; 63 percent had been raped; 75 percent had been homeless at some point; and 89 percent wanted to escape prostitution but had no options. Another 68 percent met the criteria for PTSD. Moreover, the severity of the PTSD was positively associated with the number of different types of sexual and physical violence experienced over the life course. Although the current study only assessed PTSD as a consequence of prostitution, additional symptoms of emotional distress are common among prostituted women and girls. The findings contradict long-held assumptions regarding the dangerousness of the different types of prostituting, such as street prostitution versus callout services. Similarly, the findings revealed that prostitution is not qualitatively different from human trafficking in its operations and outcomes. Finally, the argument that legalizing prostitution would diminish the violence associated with prostitution is exposed as an empty argument whose proponents do not understand the intrinsic nature of violence to the industry. The harm perpetrated against women who are prostituted is not accidental and should be addressed on a global level as a human rights issue. Tables, notes, references