Prostitution, violence, and posttraumatic stress disorder

Women Health. 1998;27(3):37-49. doi: 10.1300/J013v27n03_03.


One hundred and thirty people working as prostitutes in San Francisco were interviewed regarding the extent of violence in their lives and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Fifty-seven percent reported that they had been sexually assaulted as children and 49% reported that they had been physically assaulted as children. As adults in prostitution, 82% had been physically assaulted; 83% had been threatened with a weapon; 68% had been raped while working as prostitutes; and 84% reported current or past homelessness. We differentiated the types of lifetime violence as childhood sexual assault; childhood physical abuse; rape in prostitution; and other (non-rape) physical assault in prostitution. PTSD severity was significantly associated with the total number of types of lifetime violence (r = .21, p = .02); with childhood physical abuse (t = 2.97, p = .004); rape in adult prostitution (Student's t = 2.77, p = .01); and the total number of times raped in prostitution (Kruskal-Wallace chi square = 13.51, p = .01). Of the 130 people interviewed, 68% met DSM III-R criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD. Eighty-eight percent of these respondents stated that they wanted to leave prostitution, and described what they needed in order to escape.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Ill-Housed Persons / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • San Francisco / epidemiology
  • Sex Distribution
  • Sex Work / statistics & numerical data*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / etiology
  • Violence / statistics & numerical data*