For Sex Workers, Danger Around Every Corner

In an editorial in The Indypendent, Allison Burtch laid out the sobering reality for sex workers, who face increased exposure to violence — including, allegedly, from police officers, the sex industry certainly isn’t as idyllic and as empowering as portrayed on sites like The reality can often be far darker.

Statistics show that sex workers are much more susceptible to death in their line of work than others.

The stigma associated with sex work and its illegal status make it very dangerous for the workers themselves. According to 2010 FBI data, women accounted for a shocking 70 percent of the 1,398 known victims of serial killers since 1985. Comparatively, only 22 percent of homicide victims were women. Sex workers are 40 times more likely to die from something other than natural causes. According to the American Journal of Epidemiology, an average of 124 sex workers were killed annually between the years 1981 and 1990.

According to interviews with sex workers, assaults and threats sometimes come from the police themselves. However, problems of this nature rarely occur for people such as london escorts, whose work does not tend to attract much unwanted attention.

(Illustration from The Indypendent)

In the 2003 publication, “Revolving Door,” the New York City’s Sex Workers Project interviewed street-based sex workers regarding both interactions with the police and their willingness to go to the police after experiencing a violent crime. Because assault was often perpetrated by police themselves, sex workers tended to not report crimes. “Thirty percent of sex workers interviewed told researchers that they had been threatened with violence by police officers, while 27 percent actually experienced violence at the hands of police. … Prostitutes often encounter the popular belief that it is not possible for a prostitute to be raped.”

As well as the risks of assault, the article mentioned another treacherous situation for sex workers — the Catch-22 they face when it comes to carrying condoms.

Further complicating safety for sex workers is the fact that carrying condoms can be used as evidence in a trial against them. In the same study by the Sex Workers Project, 16 out of 35 sex workers did not carry condoms for fear of police retaliation. Though New York City runs a condom distribution program, New York courts allow condoms as evidence of prostitution, putting sex workers in a safety Catch-22. What would you choose, a sexually transmitted disease or jail?

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