Identifying possible reasons why female street sex workers have poor drug treatment outcomes: a qualitative study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
419 Downloads (Pure)


Aims: To explore street sex workers (SSWs) views and experiences of drug treatment, in order to understand why this population tend to experience
poor drug treatment outcomes.
Design: In-depth interviews.
Setting: Bristol, UK.
Participants: 24 current and exited SSWs with current or previous experience of problematic use of heroin and/or crack cocaine.
Findings: Participants described how feeling unable to discuss their sex work in drug treatment groups undermined their engagement in the treatment process.
They outlined how disclosure of sex work resulted in stigma from male and female service users as well as adverse interactions with male service users.
Participants highlighted that non-disclosure meant they could not discuss unresolved trauma issues which were common and which emerged or increased when they reduced their drug use. As trauma experiences had usually involved men as perpetrators participants said it was not appropriate to discuss them in mixed treatment groups. SSWs in recovery described how persistent
trauma-related symptoms still affected their lives many years after stopping sex work and drug use. Participants suggested SSW-only services and female staff as
essential to effective care and highlighted that recent service changes were resulting in loss of trusted staff and SSW-only treatment services. This was reported to be reducing the likelihood of SSWs engaging in drug services, with the resultant loss of continuity of care and reduced time with staff acting as barriers to an effective therapeutic relationship.
Conclusions: SSWs face many barriers to effective drug treatment. SSW-only treatment groups, continuity of care with treatment staff and contact with female staff, particularly individuals who have had similar lived experience, could improve the extent to which SSWs engage and benefit from drug treatment services. Service engagement and outcomes may also be improved by drug services that include identification and treatment of trauma-related symptoms.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere013018
Number of pages8
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number3
Early online date22 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017


  • Prostitution
  • Substance abuse

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Identifying possible reasons why female street sex workers have poor drug treatment outcomes: a qualitative study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this