Police abuse of sex workers in the United States

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Police are often a significant source of abuse for sex workers, particularly poor sex workers. One study found that sex workers with greater police oversight were more likely to be obliged to provide free sexual services to the police than sex workers with less police oversight.[1] For some groups of sex workers in some locations in the U.S., police are the primary source of violence.[2] Police may be the most abusive towards sex workers who have experienced the most victimization from other sources; a study found that sex workers who had been manipulated, coerced, or forced into sex work were more likely to suffer police abuse than sex workers who chose to enter sex work.[3]

Police abuse can have long-lasting consequences; when police falsely arrest someone for prostitution, the resulting criminal record may make it difficult for that person to find jobs or get housing. Incarceration and court attendance for false charges can disrupt efforts to pursue careers outside of sex work, as when a student misses classes.[4] Seemingly innocuous actions can affect safety; when officers tell sex workers to "move along", the workers often end up in areas where they feel less safe.[5] When police target an HIV+ person for repeated arrests, they may prevent the person from going to scheduled appointments with health care providers, and jail disrupts medication routines.[6] And sometimes abuse creates physical harm that is immediate and intentional, as when police officers physically assault a sex worker without evidence of crime and without making an arrest.[7]

This article lists government investigations, research reports, and news articles that describe police abuse of sex workers in the United States, and gives a description of the relevant information from each document.

Studies in specific areas[edit]


People in Alaska's Sex Trade: Their Lived Experiences and Policy Recommendations[3]

Tara Burns


This is a summary report. There's an email address in the report if you want access to all the data or have questions.

Excerpt from a sex worker story:

One of [the police officers] put his hand up my skirt and ripped my underwear off. He slammed me down on the car, he injured me. Um, left me with some broken fingertips, broken toes, fractured cheekbone... I was bleeding, I had my skirt ripped... people were just mortified because they'd seen a teenage girl get assaulted by a police officer...

— study respondent

The general trend of the study statistics was that the sex workers who had suffered the worst victimization in the past were the ones most likely to be abused by the police.

The following tables compare the experiences of three groups: all the respondents in the study, the respondents where were manipulated or coerced into sex work, and the respondents who were forced into sex work.

Respondents who were manipulated or coerced into sex work were more likely to attempt to report a crime, but the police were less likely to take their report and more likely to threaten or arrest them.

Tried to report a crime Police took report Police threatened arrest Police arrested
All 52% 44% 33% 6%
Manipulated or coerced into sex work 80% 20% 60% 20%

Respondents who had been coerced or manipulated into sex work and respondents who had been forced into sex work were more likely to be assaulted by a police officer.

Assaulted by a police officer
All 26%
Manipulated or coerced into sex work 60%
Forced into sex work 50%

Respondents who had been coerced or manipulated into sex work and respondents who had been forced into sex work were more likely to be robbed or beaten by a police officer.

Robbed or beaten by a police officer
All 9%
Manipulated or coerced into sex work 40%
Forced into sex work 50%


Investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department[8]

U.S. Dept. of Justice, Civil Rights Division


The DOJ found "indications that the BCPD disregards reports of sexual assault by people involved in the sex trade..." Investigators heard from the community that officers were coercing sexual favors from sex workers. Internal records indicated that this was true and the officers weren't being punished. Prior to the DOJ investigation, an internal investigation by the BCPD found an officer receiving sex from a sex worker in exchange for money and immunity from arrest. The case was closed without any attempt to gather more evidence, interview the police officer, or prosecute the officer. Cases were opened for the same officer a second and third time for the same offense. The witness for the third case died before she could be interviewed, and only then did the BCPD review the officer's phone records and discover that he had sent sexually explicit messages to a number of female sex workers. The officer was allowed to retire. The DOJ found similar cases involving other officers.

Violence against women in sex work and HIV risk implications differ qualitatively by perpetrator[9]

Decker et al


The primary form of police abuse was coercive sex, through the threat of arrest. In some cases the officer received the sexual service and arrested the sex worker anyway.


Investigation of the Chicago Police Department[10]

U.S. Dept. of Justice, Civil Rights Division and United States Attorney's Office, Northern District of Illinois


Investigators found a video of police beating and threatening a sex worker while she was handcuffed and kneeling.

An Empirical Analysis of Street Level Prostitution[1]

Levitt and Venkatesh

September 2007

This is a working paper that was never published, as far as I know. However, the PDF file is freely available and some of the results are discussed in Levitt and Dubner's book SuperFreakonomics.

The study compared two neighborhoods, one where none of the women had pimps, and one where all the women had pimps. The women without pimps were more likely to be arrested and three percent of all sexual services were provided to police officers free of charge. The women with pimps were less likely to be arrested and didn't provide free sexual services. Sex workers were more likely to have sex with a police officer than be arrested by one.

Sisters Speak Out: The Lives and Needs of Prostituted Women in Chicago[11]

Raphael and Shapiro

August 2002

Twenty four percent of street-based sex workers had been raped by a police officer. Twenty percent had experienced other sexual assault from police officers. Women doing survival sex and women in drug houses experienced a lot of violence from police. Thirty percent of exotic dancers who had been raped were raped by police, and twenty percent of the sexual violence they experienced was committed by police. Twenty five percent of escorts had been robbed by a police officer. Eighteen percent of escorts had been forced to masturbate a police officer.

Denied Help: How Youth in the Sex Trade & Street Economy are Turned Away from Systems Meant to Help Us & What We Are Doing to Fight Back[2]

Torrez and Paz


This is a survey of bad encounters experienced by young people in the sex trade and street economy. Bad encounters were divided into three categories: violence, harassment, and refusal to help. The largest source of both harassment and violence was the category of police, which included the Chicago Police Department, the FBI, and security guards in schools. Sexual violence by police made up 11% of all bad encounters.

One of the main findings was that institutional violence made individual violence worse. When girls suffered harm and sought help, the system they were seeking help from often did more harm. An example was a girl being arrested when she tried to file a report for rape. Or this:

I went to the hospital for a rape kit and when I got there the police officer accused me and my advocate of not cooperating. The officer started yelling at us both and said I was going to jail for lying. The officer never filed a report but called Child Services and I got sent to a group home but nothing ever happened with the rape.

Another finding was that bad encounters increase when institutions work together. In over 40% of bad encounters with police, another institution was involved. Young people run away from hospitals, foster care, and other service systems because they are physically, emotionally, or sexually harmed or neglected. When police forcibly return someone to one of these settings, they place the young person back in the harmful situation they were escaping from.

An example of police working with another institution to scare a person away from getting help:

I got hit on the head by someone on the train. The police took me to the hospital. The hospital tried to put me in the psych ward because I was transgender. They said I couldn't leave the hospital even though I didn't want to stay. They called the policeman back to try to force me to stay because they said I was a minor. I went to the bathroom then hid and left before they got there.

The result was that the person never got the medical help they needed because of gender discrimination and fear of being put in a psych ward.

The researchers found that police frequently sexually assaulted youth in the sex trade. The following story, sex followed by arrest, was repeated many times:

I was solicited by a police officer who said that if I had sex with him he wouldn't arrest me. So I did. Then afterwards he cuffed me and pressed charges anyway.

Sometimes it was worse.

I was going to meet a new john, it turned out to be a sting set up by the cops. He got violent with me, handcuffed me and then raped me. He cleaned me up for the police station and I got sentenced to four months in jail for prostitution.

Young trans women profiled as prostitutes was another common story.

I keep being arrested in Rogers Park just for standing still. They keep taking me in for prostitution even though I'm not doing anything at all. It's the same white cop doing it too.

From the point of view of the young people in the study, the transition to an anti-trafficking regime hasn't made much difference.

When being held in protective custody [because they said I was a victim of human trafficking] they started withholding my sheets, then towels, then pillows, then food because they said I wasn't telling them everything I could—when in fact I was.

And this:

I was receiving a rape kit after a trafficking experience and the detective was questioning me and my advocate. The officer physically wouldn't let me out of the room. She threatened to send me and my advocate to jail unless we reported what happened [but I didn't want to tell her about my experience.] The officer got loud and in our faces, swore at us and made a big scene. I got between the officer and my advocate to get her out of my advocate's face. As soon as I could I ran out the door but the officer grabbed my arm so I pushed away and hid until I could get out of the hospital.

Las Vegas[edit]

Experiences of Youth in the Sex Trade in Las Vegas[12]

Wagner, et al

March 2016

The sample consists of one hundred sixty nine respondents between the ages of thirteen and twenty four.

One respondent was given the choice between arrest and doing something "disgusting". She wouldn't tell the researcher what she was asked to do, but she told the other police officers at the station about it and they laughed at her.

A respondent was asked by an officer to show her breasts in order to avoid arrest. Another respondent had charges dropped because of police misconduct; the officer who arrested her had her perform oral sex on him.


Experiences of Youth in the Sex Trade in Miami[13]

Maurrasse, et al

March 2016

The sample was two hundred sixty four people between the ages of thirteen and twenty four, collected using RDS.

One respondent was arrested because she refused to have sex with the officers who arrested her. Another was asked by an officer for sex, but she was afraid it was a set up and said no.

New Orleans[edit]

Investigation of the New Orleans Police Department[14]

U.S. Dept. of Justice, Civil Rights Division


Investigators heard complaints that police where targeting transwomen for prostitution arrests, and sometimes fabricating evidence.

In Harm's Way: State Response to Sex Workers, Drug Users, and HIV in New Orleans[6]

Human Rights Watch


Survey respondents said that police profiled transgender people as sex workers and subjected them to verbal abuse and sexual misconduct, including demands for sex in exchange for leniency. Police were arresting people for solicitation if they carried condoms. Even trans sex workers who weren't arrested for carrying condoms saw it happen to others and where afraid to carry condoms. Some police officers used possession of condoms to coerce trans sex workers into providing free sexual services.

People who tested positive for HIV while in jail were visited by an HIV task force that scheduled appointments at a clinic. However, many people were rearrested before their scheduled appointment. One woman was arrested ten times in three years, preventing her from going to any scheduled appointments to receive care for her HIV infection during that period. Jail interrupts taking medication on a regular basis.

New York City[edit]

Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in New York City, Volume I[15]

Curtis et al

December 2008

Transgender youth reported being picked up for prostitution or loitering for prostitution when they weren't working. One eighteen year old transgender youth reported being extorted for sex by police officers eight times. Once arrested, transgender youth were more likely to be sexually exploited by jail staff than cisgender youth were.

Two quotes from cisgender respondents:

The DT who arrested me gave me his number after I went through booking. Then after my court appearance, he pulled me into a corner and was like tonguing me down.

— eighteen year old female

Police raped me a couple of times in Queens. The last time that happened was a couple of months ago. But you don't tell anybody. You just deal wit it.

— nineteen year old female

A young woman described going to the police to help another girl with an abusive pimp, only to be arrested.

New York Prevalence Study of Commercially Exploited Children: Final Report[16]

Gragg, et al


This study covered NYC as well as a few upstate counties. Most of the data came from NYC.

Police officers propositioned underage youth and made lewd comments. Most female youth in the study reported trading sex to avoid arrest. Pimps were not arrested or received less jail time than the youth that worked with them, even when one of the youths was identified as fourteen years old.

Revolving Door: An Analysis of Street Based Prostitution in New York City[7]

Thukral, et al


Abuse varied by location and police officer. Women were more likely to be arrested or ticketed in Brooklyn. Interactions with police in the Bronx were more likely to involve off-duty officers. However, a white woman in the Bronx reported that the police targeted her because she was white, telling her that she was making white people look bad. In Bushwick police harassment was so bad that a service organization was forced to change its location to protect its outreach staff. Latinas reported the worst harassment, including name-calling, stalking, and throwing food. A couple of women based in Bushwick reported daily harassment that caused them to avoid leaving their homes.

Examples of police language:




you're not dead yet?

we gotta go clean up the trash

why should we help you?

A transwoman said she was subjected to constant harassment, and the officers who harassed her were the ones who wanted "oral sex on the side."

Thirty percent of the respondents reported threats of violence from the police, and twenty seven percent reported experiencing violence. One respondent said "I've seen cops get out of a car and beat a girl, and then get back in the car and leave." Another said that her greatest fear during arrest was "not coming home at all." The white woman from the Bronx said "... they throw you on the floor and they step on you..."

Another respondent reported seeing officers injure a women in the pelvic area to prevent her from working.

... it was like he was squeezing a handball or something, but really really hard... it was two guys in a car and they drove up on the sidewalk. He pushed her against the wall and then he pushed her against the wall after he finished that and then he said "now get off the street"...

— respondent

One respondent reported that an officer followed her for thirty blocks in his civilian car. Another reported that an officer followed her and warned off clients with his bullhorn. Another reported that an officer felt her breasts and made her expose them as cars were driving by while he wrote a ticket. Some statements made by police officers to sex workers:

It's hot tonight, it's a sweep, you should get out of here, now what can you do for me?

You wanna get arrested or you wanna give up some head?

I gave you two cigarettes, you want anything else, you know what you can do for me.

Can I rub against you for $10? [said during arrest]

Either you give me a blow job or I'm going to lock you up.

— various police officers, quoted by study respondents

Several respondents reported having money stolen while being searched or arrested.

A sampling of the false arrest stories:

  • A respondent reported getting a summons while waiting to have her hair done.
  • A transwomen who was first arrested for prostitution at age fifteen reported that "I got arrested for prostitution long before I knew what prostitution was." She also said "... they just snatch you coming out of the subway, just because you're a tranny."
  • A ciswoman was approached in a park by an officer who checked and discovered that she had no outstanding warrants. He walked away and another officer approached her and arrested her. She was held for five hours before being released. By way of explanation, a police officer said "See this sheet? All these warrants aren't yours.[sic]"
  • Another woman reported being stopped coming out of a grocery store. The police spilled her groceries on the ground and arrested her for prostitution.

In New York State's Human Trafficking Intervention Courts, prostitutes might be called victims, but they're still arrested, still handcuffed, and still held in cages.[4]

No author

No date

This is an article from the Vice website. It opens with an ex-sex worker's story of false arrest; when she turned down an undercover officer's offer of money for sex, the police arrested her anyway. Because of being locked up, she missed a day of classes she needed to start a career outside of sex work. She informed the reporter that it's common for new officers to arrest women walking to the park where she was arrested, even though they're not working. One woman was arrested because the police said she was waving while wearing a low cut top and a miniskirt. Her attorney took pictures of her at arraignment wearing a jacket and pants and got the charges dropped. Another woman was arrested while wearing a peacoat and jeans that "outlined her legs."

A transwoman named Ryhannah Combs was picked up on prostitution charges while running errands. She was carrying no condoms but the arresting officer said she was carrying nine. Instead of being put in a cell, she was chained to a wall. The city settled when she sued.

A staff attorney at the Trafficking Victims Advocacy Project said that the police frequently verbally abused her clients when arresting them, and on multiple occasions have engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior.

Women who are addicted and becoming dope sick are targeted for sex. This was described as "a deal with the Devil," because the police officer will keep coming back for information, sex, or an easy arrest.

Consequences of Policing Prostitution: An Analysis of Individual Arrested and Prosecuted for Commercial Sex in New York City[17]

Dank, et al

April 2017

Study data was drawn from 1,400 client records from the Legal Aid Society's Exploitation Intervention Project. The researchers also interviewed twenty EIP clients who had had prostitution-related offenses cleared from their record.

Some of the study respondents had positive or neutral experiences with the police, but most of them had overwhelmingly negative experiences: verbal abuse, intimidation, humiliation, sexual harassment, and profiling.

Verbal abuse included slurs, derogatory comments, and refusal to use the person's native language, even when able to do so. Police used humiliation to extract cooperation. One trans woman described particularly intense humiliation, recurring with each arrest.

Some respondents had been propositioned by the police or had police as clients. One respondent described an officer who started off as a client. After their last session he came back the next day in his uniform and arrested her.

Some respondents reported repeated prostitution arrests by the same officer, even when the women weren't working. One woman was arrested while going to the store in pajamas and bedroom slippers. She described another arrest that occurred while she was meeting a cousin for dinner. She was charged even though the cousin came to the police station and told the police what they had been doing. One respondent described a police officer stating that he would lock her up if he saw her on the street.

Some respondents who were trafficked or victims of violence sought help from the police, only to be ridiculed or ignored.

Behind Closed Doors: An Analysis of Indoor Sex Work in New York City[18]

Thukral, et al


The study sample was fifty two indoor sex workers.

63% of the respondents had police-initiated contact with the police, but 63% of those said the contact was rare. Only one person, a trans woman, had police-initiated contact as often as a couple of times a week. The police in her neighborhood knew her because she had previously worked outdoors. They harassed her, honking at her as she was walking down the street, telling her to go home or they would arrest her, and calling her "Mr." or "homeboy". Another trans woman said the police harassed her because she was transgender.

Several respondents said that during arrests, police took their pictures with personal cameras. They believed the pictures were for the officers' personal use. 12% of respondents had been falsely arrested at least once.

29% of respondents had been taken into custody but released without arrest. The researchers believe the lack of police follow up indicates that there was no basis for taking the people into custody.

14% of respondents had experienced police violence and felt they had no recourse. One woman said she was beaten twice, both times because she refused to give police officers free oral sex. The first time, after she bit the officer's penis, he beat her until she passed out. Another woman was having problems with a particularly violent officer:

One likes to beat me now and then, or he wants me to suck his dick. I mean, it's crazy. He hits me with his gun and gives me these marks on my legs and my back. I don't know what to do...

I can't call the other cops. I did that once and they asked this guy to stop beating me. But he got so mad that he came around and beat me up even worse. So I really have to get out of here. Now he wants me to give him 25% of what I make...

I had to go to the hospital because I got beat so bad.

— respondent

Four respondents said that police had stolen money. One said that police steal from her about once a year. Two respondents had $4,000 and a laptop stolen from them during an arrest.

16% of respondents said they had been in sexual situations with the police. Some had sex with the police for protection or because the officers were customers, but others were picked up by the police and given the choice between sex and arrest.

Some of the Latinos reported regular police harassment.

Surviving the Streets of New York: Experiences of LGBTQ Youth, YMSM, and YWSW Engaged in Survival Sex[19]

Dank, et al

The study sample was two hundred eighty three young people selected through RDS.

Most of the respondents had been profiled, but only a small number were profiled for sex work. White and black youth were more likely to be profiled than Latinx. A black Dominican trans woman described moving into Manhattan and talking a walk around her new neighborhood. A police officer stopped her and told her she had better not be "on a stroll." At the time, she didn't know what a stroll was.

February 2015

San Francisco[edit]

Criminalizaton, legalization, or decriminalization of sex work: what female sex workers say in San Francisco, USA[20]

Lutnick and Cohen


14% of respondents described being threatened with arrest unless they had sex with a police officer. 8% said they were arrested after having sex with a police officer. 5% said they were arrested after refusing to have sex with a police officer. 40% of interactions with police officers during the previous three months were bad or very bad.

Washington, DC[edit]

Move Along: Policing Sex Work in Washington, D.C.[5]

Arrington, et al


For interactions initiated by the police, 38.5% of survey respondents reported being humiliated or verbally abused by police during relatively minor interactions such as checking ID. One respondent said the officer called her a whore, prostitute, and trick. During 8.6% of these interactions, officers confiscated or destroyed safe sex supplies, including condoms. 17.3% of respondents said that police-initiated interactions involved the officer asking for sexual services, or demanding sexual services to avoid arrest. 9.1% of respondents reported being assaulted by police officers. 3 respondents reported strip searches.

Seventy eight respondents were profiled as sex workers and ordered to "move along." The most common result of this was that they ended up in an area where they felt less safe.

75% of trans people and 82.4% of Latinos said they were treated worse than others when they were in lock up.

When the survey respondents initiated contact with the police, usually to report a crime, in a number of cases the police tried to have sex with them. This seemed to be particularly true of trans Latinas.

Studies not limited to specific areas[edit]

Whose Safety?: Women of Color and the Violence of Law Enforcement[21]



This is an overview of the literature available at the time of publication on law enforcement abuse of various groups of women. There's a short discussion of sex workers at the end.

Police abuse of sex workers includes verbal insults, coerced sex, brutal beatings, and rape. When police know that a woman is a sex worker, they may harass her when she is not working.

The most common abuses are verbal abuse and threats to arrest sex workers if the police don't receive sexual services. Police often assume that sex workers don't care who they will have sex with and will do anything to avoid arrest. But experienced street-based sex workers often refuse to provide free services. They are resigned to frequent arrests, including arrests for questionable charges. What they want to avoid are fear and indignity forced on them by bad officers.

One observer describes Chicago police picking up sex workers when the workers are on their way to and from work, and asking for sexual services. New York City police have threatened to shut down sex parlors if they didn't get free sexual services. Women picked up in raids have been taken away in their underwear and had their possessions confiscated.

Trans female sex workers face these and other more complex forms of abuse. If their official documentation doesn't match their gender presentation, they may face verbal abuse and cruel jokes centered around the difference. They may be subjected to unnecessary and illegal strip searches, ostensibly to determine their gender.

Police use sex work to profile people, stop them on the street, intimidate and question them, check for warrants, and often arrest them.

The discussion of sex work ends with the description of two rapes suffered by Mary Barr. In the first, a police officer chased off her client and then told her she might as well have sex with him because the client had already paid. In the second, an officer ordered her into the back seat of his car, told her "do what you do best," and then raped her.

Human Rights Violations of Sex Workers, People in the Sex Trades, and People Profiled as Such[22]

Best Practices Policy Project, Desiree Alliance, and Sex Workers Outreach Project- NYC


This was submitted as part of the UN Universal Periodic Review of the U.S.A.

During arrest or taking someone into custody, police often degrade or humiliate sex workers, including removing wigs or clothing, confiscating or destroying property, making homophobic, anti-transgender, and racists slurs, and engaging on sexual harassment. Organizations working with sex workers have documented a pattern of police practice that includes assault, sexual harassment, public strip searches for the purpose of viewing genitalia, and rape. This pattern of practice is supported by the difficulty or impossibility of obtaining justice in these cases.

Police are able to extend this abuse from sex workers to trans women and women of color by profiling them as sex workers. A study in Los Angeles of Latina trans women found that 42% reported being solicited for sex by law enforcement and 24% reported being sexually abused by police officers.

When sex workers try to report crimes against them, officers don't take their complaints seriously, refuse to file a report, and may arrest them, physically assault them, or pressure them for sex. When a sex worker tried to bring charges against a security guard who handcuffed and raped her, the police referred to the guard as "a big teddy bear", and added exculpatory statements to her report that she didn't make. This refusal to deal with crimes against sex workers leads serial killers to target sex workers and people profiled as sex workers.

While most witnesses who are in danger because of their testimony are put in witness protection programs, sex workers are pressured to testify by putting them in jail, exposing them to witness intimidation and denying them their right to liberty. An African-American trans female sex worker was placed in the mens' jail in Baltimore in an effort to compel her to testify in a violent crime case. Police in some areas force sex workers to participate in drug stings, exposing them to violence from the people targeted by the stings.

In New York, transgender and gender non-conforming people are often profiled as sex workers and arrested. They then have to decide whether to request being held as a "special category" prisoner. If they make the request, police are often harsh, holding them alone in a back cell longer than usual or assaulting them. If no empty cells are available, police chain them to a desk or metal bar, often for hours at a time. If they don't make the request, they may be put in a cell where they aren't safe, or the police may incite trouble with the other prisoners by saying "here's another [anti-LGBT slur] for you."

Police discourage the use of condoms by using condoms as evidence, or they destroy condoms and safe sex supplies. This encourages the spread of HIV and STIs. Carrying condoms may also be a signal for sexual harassment, cuing police to ask intrusive questions about sexual orientation and gender identity, touch inappropriately, and make disparaging comments. Police particularly target young women of color and trans youth and gender non-conforming youth of color.

Sex workers with severe injuries from violent attacks are often belittled and blamed for the attacks, and police often don't escort them or refer them to medical care. People in medical facilities seeking care for injuries from attacks have been accusingly questioned by police officers when they were profiled as sex workers.

The Use of Raids to Fight Trafficking in Persons[23]



The study sample consisted of fifteen woman who were sex workers, trafficked victims, or both.

Six of the twelve women who had been trafficking victims left their trafficking situation without help from law enforcement, through the help of a coworker or an attorney they met through a coworker or friend. Nationwide, it appears that the majority of trafficking victims escape without the involvement of law enforcement. One supervisor in a national organization said that 90% of their cases were not produced by raids or identified by law enforcement.

(N.b. Most people who fit the legal definition of trafficking victim seem to exit trafficking without any organizational help. In a study of underage sex workers in NYC, only 2% said they would ever go to a service organization if they were in trouble.[15] On the whole, they age out of sex work rather than being "rescued." Young sex workers studied in NYC and Atlantic City experienced greater control over their work over time, regardless of whether they had pimps. [24] Overall, it appears that the majority of people who fall under the category of trafficking victim exit the category through their own efforts. Only a minority of trafficking victims exit trafficking with help from organizations created to help them. Of that minority, only a further minority, perhaps 10%, are identified by law enforcement. And this study suggests that most of the people picked up in raids could have been rescued or self-rescued in other, less traumatic ways, had they been aware of the help available to them.)

Of the six trafficking victims picked up in law enforcement raids, one would have left her situation in a few days if she had not been picked up in a raid and arrested. As a result of the raid, she was pistol-whipped by a police officer and incarcerated. Her conclusion:

A better way to help leave my situation would be anything that didn't involve the police.

Another would have left on her own if she had known where to go, and another said that she would have preferred leaving with a coworker rather than being picked up in a raid. One didn't know another way to escape, but still thought the raid was "terrible." Had these women known of the resources available to trafficked people, they very likely could have left on their own and gotten the assistance they needed without the trauma or injury of a raid.

Raids often involve intimidation, verbal abuse, excessive force, and sexual harassment. Raids result in detention and deportation of trafficking victims who are afraid to come forward, or who come forward and aren't believed. Victims who aren't detained or deported are often terrorized into silence.

The respondents who experienced raids didn't know which government agency was raiding them, and in one case initially knew only that they were being attacked by people carrying guns. They didn't know what purpose the raids had, other than to detain and deport them, and they didn't know what was going to happen to them.

The women who left trafficking situations on their own, without being traumatized by a law enforcement raid, were better able to cooperate in the prosecution of their traffickers.


  1. ^ a b Levitt and Venkatesh (September 2007). An Empirical Analysis of Street Level Prostitution (PDF) (Report).
  2. ^ a b Torrez and Paz (2012). Denied Help: How Youth in the Sex Trade & Street Economy are Turned Away from Systems Meant to Help Us & What We Are Doing to Fight Back (PDF) (Report).
  3. ^ a b Tara Burns. People in Alaska's Sex Trade: Their Lived Experiences and Policy Recommendations (PDF) (Thesis).
  4. ^ a b "In New York State's Human Trafficking Intervention Courts, prostitutes might be called victims, but they're still arrested, still handcuffed, and still held in cages".
  5. ^ a b Arrington; et al. (2008). Move Along: Policing Sex Work in Washington, D.C. (PDF) (Report).
  6. ^ a b Human Rights Watch (December 2013). In Harm's Way: State Response to Sex Workers, Drug Users, and HIV in New Orleans (Report). Archived from the original on 2017-07-26.
  7. ^ a b Thukral; et al. (2003). Revolving Door: An Analysis of Street Based Prostitution in New York City (PDF) (Report).
  8. ^ U.S. Dept. of Justice, Civil Rights Division (2016-08-10). Investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department (PDF) (Report).
  9. ^ Decker; et al. (2013). Violence against women in sex work and HIV risk implications differ qualitatively by perpetuator (Report). Archived from the original on 2016-12-30.
  10. ^ U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division; United States Attorney's Office Northern District of Illinois (2017-01-13). Investigation of the Chicago Police Department (PDF) (Report).
  11. ^ Raphael and Shapiro (August 2002). Sisters Speak Out: The Lives and Needs of Prostituted Women in Chicago (PDF) (Report).
  12. ^ Wagner; et al. (March 2016). Experiences of Youth in the Sex Trade in Las Vegas (PDF) (Report).
  13. ^ Maurrasse; et al. (March 2016). Experiences of Youth in the Sex Trade in Miami (PDF) (Report).
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