The reasons for sex work entry are vast and varied. Poverty, child abuse, living in government care, drug use and the influence of pimps and peer groups are definitely common themes. Economic necessity is the primary reason why a significantly large percentage of people begin sex work. The majority of survival sex workers have had negative experiences with mainstream social services and they feel judged and stigmatized when asking for financial aid.
If poverty or substance abuse continue to be issues in their lives, the feeling of being trapped keeps them from making alternative choices.
Sex workers who would not be classified as impoverished may benefit from the income, the relative independence and the lifestyle but still feel trapped because of the attitudes in the mainstream world.
It must be understood that exiting is a process, not an event. It is a culmination of experiences in a person’s life that contribute to their decision to exit. Therefore it will take a number of new experiences before the break from the industry is complete.
Many sex workers leave the industry because of violence, reduced earning potential, drug dependence or a desire for a better life. Some leave because they have received effective support and found jobs that pay livable wages.
Unfortunately, a successful exit from the sex industry is not solely dependant on a deep desire to leave. There are many trapping factors such as criminal records, lack of resources and unavailable employment that affect sex workers’ exiting decisions and possibilities.
The process of exiting is typically a yo-yoing series of starts and stops. On average, it can take four or five attempts before sex workers feel comfortable in the mainstream world. Sex workers should be supported through the entire process of exiting, including times when they re-enter due to a lack of viable employment options.
The stigma of sex work can affect the psyche of those who are in the industry. Non-judgmental counselling and support from someone with experience in the industry are vital in helping former sex workers reclaim their lives.
For the majority of street workers, sex work and substance abuse are mutually reinforcing. Determining whether sex workers work to support their habits or the habits are a result of sex work is challenging, but healthy choices can not be made if a dependency takes precedence in their lives. Without drug maintenance and treatment, it is futile to develop long-term personal development plans.
Negative events, such as bad dates, or positive events, such as healthy relationships, can lead to a desire to exit. Either can help workers take steps to find the supports they need and reduce their isolation. Exploring and weighing out alternatives to their current circumstances can help them find their way in the straight world. Others simply age-out and involvement in sex work comes to a natural end.
Interpersonal, social and structural factors come into play during transitioning. Sex work organizations can work with individuals and existing resources to create a continuum of services that support lasting change.