Journal Article

Working Girls: Abuse or Choice in Street-Level Sex Work? A Study of Homeless Women in Nottingham

Rachel Harding and Paul Hamilton

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 39, issue 6, pages 1118-1137
Published in print September 2009 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online February 2008 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjsw/bcm157
Working Girls: Abuse or Choice in Street-Level Sex Work? A Study of Homeless Women in Nottingham

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This paper uses fifteen indices of abuse and a definition of ‘coercion’ as ‘constraint, restraint, compulsion; the application of force to control the action of a voluntary agent’ ( OED Online, 2006) to explore how homeless women understand their choice to sex work. Twenty-six homeless women were interviewed, nine of whom had sex worked. A structured, qualitative questionnaire was used in a case study design from which information was gathered about the relationship between a woman's experience of abuse and coercion and her decision to sex work. By exploring the motivations given by women as to why they sex worked, it is argued that homeless women's decisions are, in part, a consequence of systemic familial abuse and coercion from abusive partners. However, in responding to the complex needs of such women, it is also suggested that ‘abuse’ and ‘coercion’ should not routinely equate to ‘victimhood’. Consequently, our findings challenge the homogeneous approach to ‘victimization’ as demonstrated within the government's Prostitution Strategy ( Home Office, 2006a). Subsequent recommendations are made for social work practice in the context of the Strategy when working with abused and coerced homeless women who choose to sex work.

Keywords: working girls; homeless women; sex work; prostitution strategy; victim

Journal Article.  7324 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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