The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Creating Trust Among The Distrustful: A Phenomenological Examination Of Supportive Services For Former Sex Workers

Friday, January 17, 2014: 2:30 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 008A River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Kathleen Murray Preble, LMSW, Graduate Research Assistant, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
There were 44,090 prostitution arrests in the United States in 2011 (FBI, 2011).  In 2010 and 2011, 2,626 prostitution arrests occurred in a large southwestern United States metropolitan area (Fenili, 2011; Halstead, 2011). Despite prostitution arrest statistics and programs to address the issue ( i.e., S.A.G.E., in San Francisco, H.I.P.S., in Washington, D.C.), there are few program evaluations assessing agencies giving supportive services to exiting sex workers (Benoit & Millar, 2001; Mayhew & Mossman, 2007). The primary purpose of this research was to explore, from the client’s perspective, the factors contributing to feelings of trust and self-efficacy through supportive services received from an agency assisting approximately 200 women annually. 

Method. Using phenomenological design, the service experiences of 13 former sex workers were explored.  Upon IRB approval, agency staff generated a list of active clients (n=44), excluding 10 due to research criteria, representing 38% of the eligible client population. Thirteen clients were selected from three groups: “beginners” (n=7), those who had been with the agency 3 to 12 months, “middle” (n=16), those who had been with the agency more than 12 months but had not graduated; and “graduate” (n=10), those who had received the “graduate” designation by the agency. Four participants in each category were selected at random from name sheets; an additional name was selected for the pilot case. Interviews were conducted between June and October, 2012, and analyzed using NVivo 10 software.

Results. Though not explicitly discussed in each answer, undergirding most responses regarding perceptions of the efficacy of services received was the construct of trust.  In response to “how did you hear about the agency? Participants indicated friends, service providers, and word of mouth were predominant modes of referral, suggesting that respondents were willing to take a chance because others they trusted recommended it.

Responses to “which services have you enjoyed the most? Why?” indicated that the trusted community and support system they found through the agency has been essential. Responses to “are there services you wish this program would provide?” included the need for access to affordable housing and timely and reliable transportation, as well as, more opportunities for personal growth leading to enhanced self-efficacy.  Participant responses to the question “at what point did you realize the services you were receiving were actually helping you?” fell into three categories: preserving basic needs; gaining employment; and realizing self-efficacy. Each of these answers was dependent upon the development of trust between the respondent and the agency providers.  When asked “where do you see yourself in five years”, respondent's answers tended to reflect their tenure with the agency. 

Implications. The results from this study suggest that clients find the trusted and supportive community within the agency especially helpful.  Moreover, length of time with the agency influenced respondent's perceptions of supportive services.  However, respondents identified needs for a formal mentorship program, creating opportunities for clients to participate in outreach programs; and identified a potential gap in services for males wanting to exit the sex industry.