Experts know there is a significant link between sex work and drug use. Sometimes sex traffickers use drugs to keep young girls under their control or men share drugs with sex workers as a way to enhance their encounters.
Depending on the country, approximately 0.1 percent to 7 percent of an area’s population may include sex workers. Addiction, meanwhile, affects fewer people. An estimated 5 percent of the world’s population has tried an illicit substance and around 0.6 percent of people either inject opioids, cocaine or methamphetamines or use drugs on a long-term basis. While a direct link between addiction and sex work doesn’t always exist; there is a known relationship between drug users and sex workers.1
The relationship between sex and drugs makes criminal operations even more dangerous. Highly organized groups force young girls to have sex in brothels threatening them with deportation or harm if they leave. These groups also may traffic drugs, putting everyone involved at risk for violent encounters.
Whether someone sells sex on the street, through an escort service or brothel, it’s common for drugs to play a role in everyday business. Law enforcement and advocacy groups learn more every day about the vulnerability of these sex workers and now promote more ways to help them.
Vulnerable Populations and Drugs
Typically underage girls and boys begin sex work as a result of being forced from their homes due to sexual or physical abuse. A girl may meet an older man who convinces her to sell sex acts for money; commonly he may give her drugs to encourage the process. Teens may be recruited within cities or small towns in the United States or brought here illegally from other countries. Either way, people in control of the vulnerable children threaten them to get their cooperation, including the use of the following techniques:
- Convincing the victim she owes a debt and must pay it off
- Holding the victim’s legal papers and documents and threatening deportation
- Promising to harm the victim’s friends or family if she leaves
- Providing drugs to make the victim more compliant
- Abusing the victim physically and/or sexually2
Growing use of strong opioids in the U.S. also makes some people vulnerable to sex trafficking. A New York man was arrested in late 2016 for sex trafficking; he used opiates as a way to lure young women coming out of methadone clinics. Law enforcement officers in the Northeast say it’s more common to see opiates in sex trafficking cases as women are given heroin or other opiates as a way to keep them under control. Women who are in recovery for opiate use are even more vulnerable, because traffickers target them as they struggle to find safe housing and jobs. In addition to immigrants, victims include children aging out of state care, who already struggle with mental health issues and addiction.3
Sex Work and Addiction
In addition to sex trafficking victims, sex workers on the street commonly suffer with drug addictions, most often heroin and cocaine. It’s challenging to reach this population and difficult for sex workers to participate in effective treatment. Research on the best way to help female street-based sex workers shows this group suffers from complex issues and needs multiple interventions. Treating addictions to heroin and cocaine requires intensive therapy and longer stays at treatment facilities.4 One study of female sex workers showed motivational interviewing, a process of assessing a person’s readiness to make change with a series of questions, helped reduce drug use and sex work. To be more successful, the women need safe housing, mental health care and addiction treatment.5
Drug Addiction Help
Both sex workers and drug users face social stigma, making it harder for many of them to seek out treatment or help. If you or someone you love is battling drug addiction and mental health issues call The Oaks at La Paloma at our toll-free number. Our admissions coordinators take calls 24 hours a day and answer any questions about treatment, financing or insurance.
1 Ditmore, Melissa Hope. “When sex work and drug use overlap: Considerations for advocacy and practice.” Harm Reduction International. Nov. 2013. Accessed 19 June 2017.
2 “Human Trafficking: How to Get Help.” The New York County District Attorney’s Office. Accessed 19 June 2017.
3 Leboeuf, Patricia. “Addiction crisis fuels human trafficking.” The Washington Times. 28 Nov. 2016. Accessed 19 June 2017.
4 Jeal, Nikki; Macleod, John; Turner, Katrina & Salisbury, Chris. “Systematic review of interventions to reduce illicit drug use in female drug-dependent street sex workers.” BMJ, vol. 5, no. 11. 1 Nov. 2015. Accessed 19 June 2017.
5 Yahne, Carolina E.; Miller, William R. et al. “Magdalena Pilot Project: motivational outreach to substance abusing women street sex workers.” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. Vol. 23, no. 1, July 2002, pp. 49-53. Accessed 19 June 2017.
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