The Health and Wellbeing of Female Street Sex Workers
Previous research on female street sex workers (FSSWs) has primarily concentrated on the stigmatisation of women’s involvement in the sex industry particularly with reference to the spread of HIV/AIDS. The response of the criminal justice system to the regulation of the illegal aspects of women’s engagement in street sex work has also been criticised. However, the impact of street sex work on the health and wellbeing of these women requires further research. The aim of this study was to explore the perceptions and needs of female street sex workers in relation to their own health and wellbeing. The study used a qualitative mixed methods approach that included analysis of three sets of data: visual data, secondary data and primary data. There were 10 FSSWs recruited for the primary data sample. The epistemological position underpinning this study is social constructivism and a feminist paradigm has informed the conduct of the research process and data analysis. The theoretical application of Bourdieu’s framework of habitus, capital and field has provided the lens through which to explore the socially constructed experiences of FSSWs health and wellbeing. Findings from this study revealed that FSSWs experienced poor physical, mental and social health and wellbeing. They faced limited life choices and often felt discriminated against by the agencies and institutions that should have offered support. The women spoke of their personal histories especially traumatic life events in childhood consisting of sexual abuse, neglect, loss, rejection as well as intimate partner violence in adult life. The loss of their children to social services, housing difficulties and addiction to alcohol and crack cocaine were also significant in contributing to social exclusion and their multiple positions of vulnerability. This study contributes to the body of work on women’s health and wellbeing. In particular, it adds to our understanding of the lived experiences of women involved in street sex work. A key public health priority should be the development of policies and systems to provide quality services to support the health, safety and wellbeing of FSSWs.
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