A Systematic Review of Dissociation in Female Sex Workers

J Trauma Dissociation. 2019 Mar-Apr;20(2):242-257. doi: 10.1080/15299732.2019.1572044. Epub 2019 Jan 28.


We analyze the empirical evidence for the association between the occurrence of dissociation and acting as a female sex worker (FSW). The ten screened databases included original research papers looking at the association between various abusive relationships and dissociation. From the initial 5942 records, we screened 554 full-text articles from which eleven studies met the inclusion criteria. Dissociation was mainly described as a strategy to cope with work related experiences, persisting from an early age in cases affected by childhood sexual abuse (CSA). Only one study investigated the occurrence of dissociative disorders. The other studies showed that the FSW population frequently exhibits dissociative symptoms. Most study participants were street FSW characterized by high rates of revictimization, a history of childhood sexual abuse, and of trauma-related and substance use disorders. Due to the selectivity of the study samples, conclusions cannot be generalized. Our findings disclose an important research gap. Further research on mental health among FSW should cover all fields of the sex industry in order to understand the roots of sex work (SW) and its sequelae. This could help develop and implement targeted interventions.

Keywords: Dissociation; female sex worker; revictimization; traumatic disorders.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Dissociative Disorders / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Sex Workers / psychology*