Does the Stockholm Syndrome affect female sex workers? The case for a "Sonagachi Syndrome"

BMC Int Health Hum Rights. 2018 Feb 6;18(1):10. doi: 10.1186/s12914-018-0148-4.


Female sex workers are subjected to intense physical, sexual, and mental abuses that are well documented in the medical and public health literature. However, less well-studied are the mental coping mechanisms that are employed by women in this population to survive. The Stockholm Syndrome has been discussed in the news media as a potential phenomenon in this vulnerable population, but has not been formally studied. From a previous retrospective qualitative analysis reviewing interviews with women in sex work throughout India, we found that the four main criteria for Stockholm Syndrome (perceived threat to survival; showing of kindness from a captor; isolation from other perspectives; perceived inability to escape) are present in narrative accounts from this population. Thus, we propose that Stockholm Syndrome should be considered as a contributing phenomenon with regard to the psychological challenges faced by female sex workers, and can likely help guide interventions accordingly.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Female
  • Grounded Theory
  • Humans
  • India
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sex Workers / psychology*
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Vulnerable Populations / psychology*