Most female street sex workers in the UK are affected by the use of illegal drugs, such as heroin and crack cocaine. For most of these women, drug use reinforces their dependency on sex work and adds to their health and social problems. The need to finance their drug use, and often that of a partner, underpins their involvement in sex work. Drug intoxication also means they are less able to protect themselves whilst working.
Street sex workers who are drug-dependent find using treatment services difficult and when they do, typically don’t benefit as much as other drug users.
Managing problem drug use amongst sex workers is complex. They can experience stigma from other drug service users. This prevents them from discussing their sex work, a major factor in their drug use, in treatment groups. There is also evidence that many drug-using street sex workers are affected by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They are unlikely to benefit from other treatment unless this is addressed.
With our partners, have developed a plan to improve the results of drug treatment for these women, by organising NHS and voluntary sector services to work together. This new approach involves creating a stigma-free environment for street sex workers to discuss their work in treatment groups, as well as addressing trauma.