Purpose: Research has suggested an array of negative life consequences may result from youth involvement in prostitution including: victimization and abuse (ECPAT-USA, 2001; Nadon, Koverola, & Schludermann, 1998), abuse and addiction of drugs and alcohol (ECPAT-USA, 2001; Lung, Lin, Lu, & Shu, 2004; Pedersen & Hegna, 2003; Simons & Whitbeck, 1991; Walker, 2002; Unger et al., 1998), the development of serious mental illness (Lung, Lin, Lu, & Shu, 2004; Willis & Levy, 2002), the development of serious medical conditions (ECPAT-USA, 2001; Willis & Levy, 2002) and death (Johnson, 1992; Lung, Lin, Lu, & Shu, 2004; Walker, 2002). Women who report that they have prostituted are known to have had multiple exposures to victimization and abuse in their childhoods, from husbands, pimps and johns (Carter & Dalla, 2006). There is much to learn about how women and girls enter into prostitution and the impact of factors such as age, family dynamics, substance abuse and life experiences. This study explores the experiences of a group of prostituted women regarding when they began prostituting. The purpose of this study is to add to the descriptive literature about juvenile and adult prostituted women and to contribute to the identification of service needs that could aid in the creation of developmentally appropriate prostitution exiting programming.
Method: Sixty-eight prostituted women in a residential prostitution exiting program from 2006 to 2008. The participants, ranging in age from 18 to 53 years old, completed the Trauma Symptom Inventory (Briere, 1995) and a life history survey regarding childhood abuse, criminal behavior, drug use and self-harm behaviors. The participants were divided into two groups, those who entered prostitution before they were age 18 (n =24) and those who began age 18 or above (n =44). Descriptive, t-test and chi square analyses were conducted to determine if the two groups were different regarding mental health problems and life experiences.
Results: The analyses suggested significant differences between the two groups. Those who were juveniles when the began prostitution were more likely to report a history of running away, history of emotional abuse during childhood, greater reported dissociation symptoms, and younger age at first arrest. Those who began prostitution as adults were more likely to have reported being addicted to drugs and/or alcohol.
Implications: This study presents new information to social workers about the differences between juvenile and adult prostituted women and can assist in evaluating potentially unique service needs of juvenile female prostitutes. Future research and clinical implications are discussed.