Understanding the Lived Experiences of People with Experience in the Commercial Sex Trade of Exploitation, Trafficking & Prostitution


Paola Michelle Contreras, PsyD; Beth Waterman, MA & Heather Wightman, MSW, MPH | September 19 | 1:30-2:30 PM

Topic: Research, Direct Service | Knowledge Level: Advanced | Location: TBD

Psychosocial, human, and health services are seldom equipped to address the unique needs of people with lived experiences in the commercial sex trade (Aron, Sweig, & Newmark, 2006; Hemmings et al., 2016). A prominent issue is the struggles that people experience(d) to exit from the trade (Baker, Dalla, & Williamson; Reid & Piquero, 2014). The stigma associated with involvement in the trade often deters those caught up in it from services (Macy & Johns, 2011; Silver, Karakurt, & Boysen, 2015); a missed opportunity for providers to engage a population highly vulnerable to exploitation, violence, trafficking, prostitution and other forms of human rights violations. Hence, this presentation will describe a study whose primary objective is to better understand the challenges that people face to exit. Another study objective is to generate knowledge to inform best practices to work with people who are at different points of experience and relationship to the commercial sex trade: still in the sex trade; out of the sex trade; and with or without a history of cycling in and out of the sex trade. The team will discuss their preliminary findings in relation to the study objectives based on qualitative and quantitative data gathered across Massachusetts in 2018 from 50 interviews with adult participants who reported they had exchanged sex for something of value during their lifetime. The study participants are diverse by their age (18-34, 35%; 35-44, 45%; 55+, 20%);  gender (male, 14%; female, 84%, other 2%); race (Black & African American, 41%; White, 47%; other, 12%); ethnicity (12% Latino); sexual orientation (Heterosexual, 59%; Homosexual/Gay/Lesbian, 10%; Bisexual, 25%; other, 6%); income (51%, $12,000 or less); and childbearing status (74%, have children).

Presentation Objectives:

·  Discuss preliminary study findings related to participants' relationship to the commercial sex trade correlated across exiting status and measures involving spirituality, wellness, dissociation, PTSD, and Adverse Childhood Experiences

·  List potential practice applications of the data that may inform improved clinical and peer services to people with lived experience in the commercial sex trade

·  Engage attendees in helping the researchers identify how these preliminary findings might be helpful to better serve the population

About the Presenters