Addiction and Prostitution

One of the most stereotypical and prominent demographics of drug users, especially those who use illicit drugs, is that of the street prostitute. Commonly portrayed in television and movies as addicts, prostitutes present the mainstream media with an easy illustration of the dangers of drug use.  The relationship between prostitution and drug use, however, is far from simple. Though both drug use and prostitution have been around for centuries, social scientists did not start researching the relationship between the two activities until the 1970s. What researchers have found both challenges and reinforces many people’s perceptions of prostitutes and drug use.  For instance, recent studies have shown that while many addicts use prostitution as a way to pay for their habit, other women use prostitution to pay for their drug treatments.  Prostitution, in other words, becomes a way for women to escape their addictions.

Why do women become prostitutes?  What leads women to addiction?    

Some prostitutes use drugs; some drug users become prostitutes.  When we consider drug abuse and prostitutes, the women discussed are generally street prostitutes and not women who work in brothels or as escorts.   

The reasons that women become prostitutes or addicts are quite similar.  One of the main reasons that prostitutes use drugs is to cope.  Their addiction may be a coping mechanism for events experienced before they turned to prostitution, or they may use drugs to deal with being a prostitute, especially if they are forced to work on the street.

Additionally, both addicts and prostitutes suffer from feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, negative self-esteem, and psychological problems. These feelings are often catalysts for and consequences of drug and alcohol abuse.

Women may turn to drugs, prostitution, or both because they:  

  • Suffered sexual, physical, or emotional abuse while they were children or as adults,
  • Ran away from home,
  • Have a poor educational history or low job skills that makes it more difficult for them to find legal employment opportunities,
  • Suffer from mental illness, or
  • Lived or are living in a family where relatives are addicts and/or prostitutes

How prevalent is drug and alcohol addiction within the prostitute community?

Like many people who live or work on street and who are asked about drug and alcohol abuse, reliable statistics are difficult to obtain.  However, because street prostitutes are often arrested, their addiction numbers are slightly easier to track.  According to Calvin Trent, the Director of the Bureau of Substance Abuse Prevention, Treatment and Recovery in Detroit, Michigan, 70% of street prostitutes are addicted to drugs or alcohol. 

What is the financial relationship between addiction and prostitution?

In larger cities, crack-cocaine is the most widely abused drug by prostitutes.  The supply is generally high and women have easy access to it through their johns and pimps. 

The price of drugs in many cities, however, is inversely linked to the price of the women’s services as prostitutes.  As the price of drugs goes up, sex becomes cheaper, making it more difficult for women because they must take in more customers and work longer on the streets. 

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