Early developmental experiences of female sex workers: a comparative study


  • Kathleen Potter,

  • Judy Martin,

  • Sarah Romans

  • Department of Psychological Medicine, Dunedin School of Medicine, PO Box 913, Dunedin, New Zealand.

  • Kathleen Potter, House physician

  • Capital CoastHealth, Wellington, New Zealand

JudyMartin Research Fellow; Sarah Romans, Professor (Correspondence)


Objective: The aim of this paper is to explore the early family environment of a sample of female sex workers and compare the findings with a large community data set of similarly aged women.

Method: Sex workers recruited by a snowball method were given a semi-structured interview, which included the Parental Bonding Instrument. These results were compared to those from the Otago Women’s Child Sexual Abuse (OWCSA) study.

Results: The sex workers’ families were of lower socioeconomic status and had experienced more parental separation than had the OWCSA families. The mothers of sex workers were more frequently the family’s main wage earner. Sex workers described both parents as less caring than did the OWCSA women. They were significantly more likely than the OWCSA women to report childhood sexual abuse. The sex workers were more likely to have left home early, to have become pregnant before the age of 19 years and to not have completed tertiary study.

Conclusions: The sex workers studied came from families with more interpersonal difficulties during childhood and adolescence than did a control community sample of similarly aged women. The relevance and generalisability of this conclusion to the wider sex worker population is difficult to determine, given the non-random selection of this sex worker sample.