Critical Issues  -  Abuse / Trauma

From: Psychiatric Services, Vol. 50, No. 12, 1999 1606-1613

Pathways Into Prostitution Among Female Jail Detainees and Their Implications for Mental Health Services

Susan F. McClanahan, Ph.D.
Gary M. McClelland, Ph.D.
Karen M. Abram, Ph.D.
Linda A. Teplin, Ph D.


Objective: To explore the service needs of women in jail, the authors examined three pathways into prostitution: childhood sexual victimization, running away, and drug use. Studies typically have explored only one or two of these pathways, and the relationships among the three points of entry remain unclear.

Methods: Data on 1,142 female jail detainees were used to examine the effects of childhood sexual victimization, running away, and drug use on entry into prostitution and their differential effects over the life course.

Results: Two distinct pathways into prostitution were identified. Running away had a dramatic effect on entry into prostitution in early adolescence, but little effect later in the life course. Childhood sexual victimization, by contrast, nearly doubled the odds of entry into prostitution throughout the lives of women. Although the prevalence of drug use was significantly higher among prostitutes than among nonprostitutes, drug abuse did not explain entry into prostitution.

Conclusions: Running away and childhood sexual victimization provide distinct pathways into prostitution. The findings suggest that women wishing to leave prostitution may benefit from different mental health service strategies depending on which pathway to prostitution they experienced.

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