Getting out: a qualitative exploration of the exiting experience among former sex workers and adult sex trafficking victims
Sexual exploitation is a problem faced by women victimized by sex trafficking and are involved in the commercial sex industry as a result of limited employment options. Negative consequences associated with engaging in sex work in the United States include violent victimization, physical and mental health problems, addiction, isolation from positive social support, and economic instability. These consequences make exiting difficult, and recently Baker, Williamson, and Dalla (2010) created an integrated prostitution exiting model to help explain the exiting process, accounting for the impact of these consequences and identifying the role that failed exiting attempts play in leading women to a final exit. Currently, much remains unknown regarding the usefulness of the model and researchers have yet to explore the process of exiting from the perspective of former sex workers. This dissertation examines the process of exiting commercial sex work from the perspective of 19 adult women who exited the sex industry and had not engaged in sex work for at least two years. The goal of the study was to compare findings from these interviews to Baker et al.'s (2010) integrated model and to further understand the experience of exiting sex work. A narrative approach to data collection was taken (Wells, 2011), and individual interviews were conducted with each participant in order to elicit narratives about their experiences exiting sex work. A phenomenological approach was utilized to analyze the data (van Manen, 1990), and five overarching themes encompassing 21 subthemes emerged as key findings. Many of these themes supported the stages of Baker et al.'s (2010) model, including the experience of becoming disillusioned with the prostitution lifestyle as a precursor to successfully exiting, the likelihood that women will attempt to exit and then re-enter sex work a number of times before finally exiting, and the presence of specific barriers that inhibited the exiting process. Additional themes emerged, offering new information about the importance of involving former sex workers in treatment, the role that children, customers, and other relationships play in helping or hindering the exiting process, and the development of resiliency among women undergoing the exiting process. Recommendations for research and practice are discussed.