How Sex Trading Identities Shape Experiences of Service Provision: Insights from Adult Women with Lived Experiences and Service Providers

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Graduate School of Social Work


Social services, Sex trafficking, Sex trading, Identity, Service providers


The relationship between women’s identities of sex trading and their engagement with social service providers remains understudied. Drawing from larger grounded theory study, in-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 30 adult women who traded sex as adults and 20 service providers who come into contact with this population in a U.S. Midwestern city. Women engaging in services were sampled through maximum variation sampling and women not engaged with services were recruited through snowball sampling. Providers were recruited through purposive sampling through the coalition and nominations sampling. Findings suggest that women experienced one of three themes of identity formation with regard to sex trading (i.e. people who trade sex, independent prostitutes, or prostitutes with pimps). Although some women could legally be considered victims of sex trafficking, they viewed sex trafficking as the involvement of multiple underage girls in a trafficking ring, which did not resonate with their experiences. Providers would sometimes attempt to highlight their perceived danger of sex trading and use different words than their clients used to describe the sex trading. Women received messages of financial worth in sex trading based on their racial identities. Implications for social work practice are]. discussed.

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