Understanding Paths of Entry Into Prostitution to Develop Better Programs to Exit
Method: Adults involved in a prostitution diversion program in a large Southwestern state were recruited to participate in the study. Data consisted of survey packets including a written questionnaire with dichotomous yes/no questions and open-ended questions about family and childhood experiences, substance use, and experiences related to prostitution involvement. The survey packet also included the Trauma Symptom Inventory (Briere, 1995), a survey assessing acute trauma symptomology. One open-ended question in the survey asked participants to, “Describe how you got involved in the sex work industry”. Fifty-nine participants with experience in many different types of sex work (e.g. internet call girl, street prostitution, pornographic films and photographs, dance/strip clubs) provided answers to this question. Their written descriptions were analyzed by two coders using Nvivo, a qualitative analysis software program, and inductive content analysis was employed to identify themes in the data.
Results: Qualitative analysis resulted in the emergence of three broad themes related to avenues of prostitution entry: through a relationship, to meet a need, and an interest in the lifestyle. These broader themes encompassed seven subthemes: 1) recruited by pimp, 2) recruited by friend, 3) basic survival needs, 4) drug addiction, 5) curiosity or fun, 6) involvement in the adult industry, and 7) a history of sexual abuse or early sexual behavior. Participants’ descriptions were specific, and as such were able to be quantitatively examined for differences between participants in the three broad themes. Chi square analysis revealed that while the three groups did not differ regarding many life experiences (e.g. childhood abuse), those who entered to meet a need were significantly more likely to report drug or alcohol addiction and to report clinically significant symptoms of depression; furthermore, individuals who entered because of a relationship were significantly more likely to have ever participated in selling sex via the Internet relative to the other two groups.
Conclusions and Implications: This study offers new insight into the avenues of entry into prostitution and sex trafficking situations. Findings identified three very distinct avenues of entry into prostitution, and illuminate some of the unique experiences and treatment needs of prostituted adults who begin prostituting for different reasons. These differences were found to be important with regard to co-occurring issues unique to each path, which have been identified in the literature as significant barriers to successful exiting.