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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Johns Hopkins: Police Interactions Linked To Increased Risk of Client Violence for Female Sex Workers

The more abusive interactions street-based female sex workers (FSWs) have with police, the higher their risk of violence at the hands of clients, a new study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests. The findings suggest the need for interventions that address relationships between FSW and police to help alleviate negative impacts on FSW work environments, the authors say.

The findings will be published December 20 in American Journal of Public Health.

“It’s no secret that street-based sex work can be dangerous in the context of criminalization,” says senior author Dr. Susan Sherman, a professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health, Behavior and Society. Research suggests that, globally, FSWs experience considerable work-related violence, including physical, verbal and sexual abuse, robbery, kidnapping and murder. (Over their lifetime, the prevalence rate for work-related violence among FSWs is 45 to 75 percent.) But, she adds, the role of the police in this violence against this vulnerable population hasn’t been well understood.

The study, which involved 250 FSWs, found that FSWs interact with the police—not only because of the illegal nature of their jobs, but because many are engaged in the drug market, says Katherine Footer, MSc, assistant scientist at the Bloomberg School and the paper’s lead author.

An analysis of the study data showed that all participating FSWs had experienced police interactions in their lifetimes, with nearly half having weekly encounters and about one in 10 having daily police encounters. These interactions ranged from regular patrol or enforcement activities, such as asking the women to move along or performing a routine stop, to abusive, such as verbal or emotional harassment or sexual harassment or assault. Excluding arrest, 92 percent had experienced at least one patrol/enforcement activity, and 78 percent had experienced at least one abusive encounter in their lifetime.

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