The lived experience of UK street-based sex workers and the health consequences: an exploratory study

Health Promot Int. 2012 Sep;27(3):311-22. doi: 10.1093/heapro/dar040. Epub 2011 Jul 3.


The complex, difficult lives and subsequent health issues of street-based female sex workers are well documented. This paper explores the health needs of a group of sex workers in one geographical locality in the north-west of England. Interviews were conducted with a number of women currently engaged in sex work, with the aim of identifying factors maintaining them in this work and examining their experience of health and health-related services. A thematic analysis revealed considerable life circumstance complexity, with violence, drugs, alcohol and housing problems being prevalent factors. The combination of such factors compounds the likelihood of the women's social exclusion. Other themes related to the casual perception the women had of their own health needs, their generally poor experience of services and the demonstrable impact of one specific service in supporting a group so reluctant to engage. The study suggests poor understanding of the complex needs of street-based sex workers by both services and professionals, particularly a failure to engage with the reality of these women's lives and the factors that maintain them in this work.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Ill-Housed Persons
  • Mental Health
  • Sex Workers*
  • Social Isolation
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • United Kingdom
  • Violence / statistics & numerical data