THE FACTS

selling sex on the street

These are general statistics about women who sell sex on the street. The studies cited didn’t differentiate between trafficked and non-trafficked people.

WHERE THE SEX HAPPENS

The majority of women we work with sell sex on the street, sometimes called doing “car dates.” The women will walk along a thoroughfare until a car pulls up and asks the woman if she wants a ride or if she simply wants to get in. The woman has about 10 seconds to decide if the driver poses a danger before she has to get into the car. If she takes any longer, she runs the risk of being spotted by police. Once inside the car, the driver — who 99% of the time is male — will pull over for the price negotiation. The actual date happens inside the car.

  • 1,080 — Number of women who sell sex daily on the street in Albuquerque, NM 5

    • Data acquired through on-going “point-in-time” surveys conducted quarterly by Street Safe since 2015

  • Number of women in New Mexico who occasionally sell sex:

    • 17,000 — Based on level of poverty 1

    • 43,812 — Based on substance use #2,3,4

  1. Cohan, D.L., et al. “Health indicators among low income women who report a history of sex work: the population based Northern California Young Women’s Survey.” Sexually Transmitted Infections. 2005. 81:428–433 [Number acquired through extrapolation of data given in article which was determined as follows: The article found that 8.9% of women with median household incomes less than the 10th percentile reported selling sex; in New Mexico this would amount to approximately 17,000 women]

  2. Burnette, M.L., et al. “Prevalence and Health Correlates of Prostitution Among Patients Entering Treatment for Substance Use Disorders.” 2008. Archives of  General Psychiatry. 2008;65(3):337-344 [51% of women in substance-use program report past year sale of sex]

  3. Rash, C.J., et al. “A retrospective and prospective analysis of trading sex for drugs or money in women substance abuse treatment patients.” Drug Alcohol Dependence. 2016. 162: 182–189 [44% of women in substance-use program have history of selling sex]

  4. New Mexico Substance Abuse Epidemiology Profile, January 2016. Download at: https://www.nmhealth.org/data/view/substance/1862/ [Percent prevalence of people over age 12 in New Mexico needing but not receiving treatment for drug or alcohol use in 2012 is 9.9%. Approximate female population in New Mexico over age 12 in 2012 is 931,667. Therefore, the number of women over age 12 in New Mexico needing but not receiving treatment for drug or alcohol use in 2012 is 92,235. Taking the average from the above articles (47.5%) to determine the number of women in a substance-use treatment program who have sold sex, we found the number of women over age 12 in New Mexico needing but not receiving treatment for drug or alcohol use in 2012 who sold sex to be 43,812]

  5. Problems with doing point-in-time surveys determining the number of women who sell sex daily on the street in Albuquerque, N.M: Number of women on the street change during less busy times, such as from 3-4 a.m. however fewer surveys are done at these times; Not all women work every day; Those who do work every day will be out an average of three times per day doing dates; About 30% of women who would be doing street-based sex work are incarcerated at any given time

# — Number acquired through extrapolation of data given in articles indicated. Please note the available data did not directly correlate which means the extrapolation can only give a “best guess” number

34 — Average age of death of 1,969 women who sold sex on the street in Colorado Springs, Colorado, from 1967-1999 1

 

Top causes of death: 1

  1. Homicide

  2. Drug use

  3. Accident

  4. Alcohol use

  1. Potterat J.J. et al. “Mortality in a Long-term Open Cohort of Prostitute Women.” American Journal of Epidemiology. 2004. Vol. 159, No. 8

Of women selling sex on the street in Albuquerque

  • 95% were born in the U.S.

  • 80% were born in New Mexico

  • 91% identify as women of color 2

  • 56% identify as Hispanic 2

    • 50% of Albuquerque’s population is Hispanic 1

    • 49% of New Mexico’s population is Hispanic 1

  • 32% identify as Native 2

    • 4% of Albuquerque’s population is Native 1

    • 9% of New Mexico’s population is Native 1

  • 9% identify as Non-Hispanic White 2

    • 40% of Albuquerque’s population is Non-Hispanic White 1

    • 38% of New Mexico’s population is Non-Hispanic White 1

  • 3% identify as African American 2

    • 3% of Albuquerque’s population is African American 1

    • 2% of New Mexico’s population is African American 1

  • 0% identify as Asian/Pacific Islander 2

    • 3% of Albuquerque’s population is Asian/Pacific Islander 1

    • 2% of New Mexico’s population is Asian/Pacific Islander 1

  1. New Mexico’s Indicator-Based Information System; June 2013, published by New Mexico Department of Health; downloaded 7/11/21 from https://ibis.health.state.nm.us/indicator/view/nmpopdemoraceth.nm.html

  2. Lusk, A. et al. “A Different Kind of Street Smarts: Human Papillomavirus Awareness Among Street-Based Female Sex Workers in Albuquerque, New Mexico.” Open Forum Infectious Diseases. 2016. 3;1315

 
 
 
 

In 2011, Researchers interviewed 105 Native women who were selling sex in three very different Minnesota cities —

  • Minneapolis, population 5.6 million

  • Duluth, population 85,900

  • Bemidji, population 15,132

They were trying to determine the experience of Native women in the sex trade.

What they found was that racism was, and remains, “an emotionally damaging element” in the lives of Native women as well as a “source of ongoing stress.”

Often, the racism was overt, with 42% of the women reporting they had been racially insulted by sex buyers and traffickers alike, who used words like “savage” or “squaw” along with “whore” or “slut.” Mixed in were often racist stereotypical insults about Indians and alcohol abuse.

The women also were subjected to insults about their skin color, such as “Why don’t you go back to the rez – go wash the brown off you.” Other remarks were casually colonialist and homicidal, such as, “I thought we killed all of you.”

Some sex buyers found the historical racism sexually arousing and a few wanted to act out the part of a colonist. “He likes my hair down and sometimes he calls me Pocahontas,” said one woman. “He likes to role play like that. He wants me to call him John.” (This possibly is a reference to John Smith, who, according to legend, Pocahontas fell in love with after she saved him from execution. But this story is now largely dismissed by experts.)

Unsurprisingly, 62% of the Native women in the study saw a connection between prostitution and colonization, given that in the sale of sex there is a “devaluation of women” identical to the “devaluation of Native people” during colonialism.

And the women understand all too well the impact of colonialism — because it is not a thing of the past. It is part of the present; 69% of the women have relatives — from grandparents to parents to siblings — who attended the now-infamous Native boarding schools.

 

These government- and religious-funded schools were initially built with the express intent of eradicating Native culture in students who had been forcibly taken away from their parents. There were over 350 such schools in the U.S. and at their peak in the 1970s, more than 60,000 students attended them per year. Finally, in 1978 Congress passed a law that allowed Native parents the legal right to refuse their child's placement in a school.

The women in the study said the very culture those schools tried so hard to erase are what gave them strength, with 33% saying Native cultural or spiritual practices are an important part of who they are. Many of the women said they were alive because of those practices.

  1. Farley, M., et al “Garden of Truth: The Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota.” 2011. A project of Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition and Prostitution Research & Education

 
 

Of women who sell sex on the street:

  • 52% have less than a high school education 1,2,3,5,8

  • Majority read at 7th grade level or below 4

  • 62-84% on average are homeless 6,7,2

  • More than once a week, 54% have gone to sleep at night hungry because there was not enough food  2

  • 51-60% in permanent relationships with boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife 5,8

  • 88% have children 9

  • 74% have children under age 18 8

  • 2.4 — number of children on average 9

  • 53% experience domestic violence from intimate partner 2,10

​​

  1. Burnette, M.L., et al. Prevalence and Health Correlates of Prostitution Among Patients Entering Treatment for Substance Use Disorders. Archives of  General Psychiatry. 2008;65(3):337-344

  2. Fehrenbacher, A., et al. “Exposure to Police and Client Violence Among Incarcerated Female Sex Workers in Baltimore City, Maryland.” American Journal of Public Health. 2020. 110(51) [[Of 250 incarcerated women who sold sex, 66% had been homeless and 52.9% experienced physical or sexual violence by intimate partner]

  3. Surratt, H., et al. “Sex Work and Drug Use in a Subculture of Violence.” Crime & Delinquency. 2004. 50;(1)43-59

  4. Lusk, A. et al. “A Different Kind of Street Smarts: Human Papillomavirus Awareness Among Street-Based Female Sex Workers in Albuquerque, New Mexico.” Open Forum Infectious Diseases. 2016. 3;1315

  5. Benoit, C., & Millar, A. “Dispelling Myths and Understanding Realities: Working Conditions, Health Status, and Exiting Experiences of Sex Workers.” 2001. The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.

  6. Farley, M., and Kelly, V. “Prostitution:  a critical review of the medical and social sciences literature.” 2000. Women & Criminal Justice. 11 (4): 29-64. [72% homeless]

  7. Farley, M. and Barkan, H. “Prostitution, violence, and posttraumatic stress disorder.” Women & Health. 1998; 27(3) [84% homeless]

  8. Romero-Daza, N., Weeks, M., & Singer, M. ‘‘Nobody Gives a Damn if I Live or Die’’: Violence, Drugs, and Street-Level Prostitution in Inner-City Hartford, Connecticut.” Medical Anthropology. 2003. 22:233–259 [4 of 35 of drug addicted women in prostitution reported finished high school, i.e 88% did not finish high school]

  9. Dalla, R. “Exposing the "Pretty Woman" Myth: A Qualitative Examination of the Lives of Female Streetwalking Prostitutes.” The Journal of Sex Research. 2000. 37;(4)

  10. Nixon K, Tutty L, Downe P, Gorkoff K, Ursel J. “The everyday occurrence: violence in the lives of girls exploited through prostitution.” Violence Against Women. 2002;8(9):1016-1043. [22 of 33 respondents reported being abused by their intimate partners, however, overall the article is less data driven and instead relies on “semistructured” personal narratives]

 
HOUSEHOLD INSTABILITY AS A CHILD

Of 201 people who went on to sell sex in the city of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: 1

  • 80% experienced more than one living/family situation by the time they reached 18

  • 40% experienced four or more changes in family/living situation

  • 16 — average age began living on their own

    • 11% lived on their own before age 14

 

INSTABILITY TIMELINE 1

Age 1 — 70% living with both biological parents

Age 5 — 45% living with both biological parents; 20% living with mother 

Age 10 — 34% living with both biological parents; 20% living with mother

Age 15 — 56% living with neither biological parent; 10% living with mother

  1. Benoit, C., & Millar, A. “Dispelling Myths and Understanding Realities: Working Conditions, Health Status, and Exiting Experiences of Sex Workers.” 2001. The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.

 

For data about money earned by trafficking victims, click here

  • $1,000 — Monthly amount earned in 2004 by women who sold sex on the street in Miami, Florida 1

    • $1,452 — Monthly amount earned in 2021 with inflation in Miami

    • $17,424 — Yearly amount earned in 2021 with inflation in Miami

  • $2,106 — Average monthly amount earned in 2021 by women who sell sex on the street in Albuquerque, NM 2

    • $25,272 — Average yearly amount earned in Albuquerque 2

  1. Surratt, H., et al. “Sex Work and Drug Use in a Subculture of Violence.” Crime & Delinquency. 2004. 50;(1)43-59 (Looked at 325 women who sold sex on the street in Miami, Florida, in 2004)

  2. Lusk, A. et al. “A Different Kind of Street Smarts: Human Papillomavirus Awareness Among Street-Based Female Sex Workers in Albuquerque, New Mexico.” Open Forum Infectious Diseases. 2016. 3;1315 (Study determined that on average, women selling sex on the street do 3.25 dates per day, earning an average of $27 per date. That would be $87.75 earned on average per day x 24 working days a month x 12 months per year = $25,272)

Annual amount of money a person could earn on average from the sale of sex in the city of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, in 2001 prior to enactment of stricter anti-prostitution laws in 2014: 1

  • $23,211 as an escort with an agency (In U.S. dollars in 2001)

    • $35,952 in 2021 with inflation

      • Escort kept $78 out of every $100 earned

  • $27,854 working out of home or hotel (In U.S. dollars in 2001)

    • $43,143 in 2021 with inflation

  • $27,080 working on street (In U.S. dollars in 2001)

    • $41,944 in 2021 in U.S. dollars with inflation

  1. Benoit, C., & Millar, A. “Dispelling Myths and Understanding Realities: Working Conditions, Health Status, and Exiting Experiences of Sex Workers.” 2001. The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.

 
  • 3-4 — Average number of dates per day while selling sex on the street 1,4

  • Past-month sexual activity2

    • 36% vaginal sexual contacts

    • 24% oral sexual contacts

    • 26.8% less traditional forms of sex trading

  • 29-44% began selling sex because economic necessity (i.e., to pay rent, buy groceries, rent 6,8

  • 11-16 — Average number of years selling sex 2,5

  • 22% — Percent of women who started selling sex on the street as minors 4,6,7

  • 15-25 — Average age range during which entry into the sale of sex is highest 3

NOTE: Many studies have looked at age of entry into the the sale of sex, however, there is much discrepancy in those studies and those numbers have been called into question by other authors. It is most accurate to say there is constant entry into prostitution from age 15 to 25, with minor spikes at ages 15 and 24​​

  1. Romero-Daza, N., Weeks, M., & Singer, M. ‘‘Nobody Gives a Damn if I Live or Die’’: Violence, Drugs, and Street-Level Prostitution in Inner-City Hartford, Connecticut.” Medical Anthropology. 2003. 22:233–259

  2. Surratt, H., et al. “Sex Work and Drug Use in a Subculture of Violence.” Crime & Delinquency. 2004. 50;(1)43-59

  3. McClanahan, S., et al “Pathways Into Prostitution Among Female Jail Detainees and Their Implications for Mental Health Services.” Psychiatric Services. 1999. 50;(12)

  4. Lusk, A. et al. “A Different Kind of Street Smarts: Human Papillomavirus Awareness Among Street-Based Female Sex Workers in Albuquerque, New Mexico.” Open Forum Infectious Diseases. 2016. 3;1315

  5. Dalla, R. “Exposing the "Pretty Woman" Myth: A Qualitative Examination of the Lives of Female Streetwalking Prostitutes.” The Journal of Sex Research. 2000. 37;(4)

  6. Dalla, R. “Night moves: A qualitative investigation of street-level sex work.” Psychology of Women Quarterly, (2002), 26:63–73

  7. Fehrenbacher, A., et al. “Exposure to Police and Client Violence Among Incarcerated Female Sex Workers in Baltimore City, Maryland.” American Journal of Public Health. 2020. 110(51) [21% were minors when started selling sex]

  8. Benoit, C., & Millar, A. “Dispelling Myths and Understanding Realities: Working Conditions, Health Status, and Exiting Experiences of Sex Workers.” 2001. The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research. [Of 201 current and former women who sold sex in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: 29% started selling sex because of economic necessity]

 
  • 68% will have bipolar disorder in their lifetime 2

  • 62% have depression 1

    • 52-54% will have major depressive disorder in their lifetime 2,3

    • 7% of U.S. adults will experience a major depressive episode at some time in their lives (National Institute of Mental Health)

  • 29-42% have anxiety 1,3

  • 42% have psychosis 1

    • 3% of U.S. adults will experience psychosis at some time in their lives (National Institute of Mental Health)

    • Psychosis includes delusions (false beliefs) and hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that others do not see or hear), nonsense speech, and behavior that is inappropriate for the situation. The person with the condition usually isn't aware of his or her behavior. It can be caused by trauma, substance use, physical illness or mental illness

  • 41% will attempt suicide 1

    • 3% of U.S. adults will attempt suicide at some time in their lives (UpToDate)

  1. Burnette, M.L., et al. “Prevalence and Health Correlates of Prostitution Among Patients Entering Treatment for Substance Use Disorders.” Archives of  General Psychiatry. 2008;65(3):337-344 [29% have anxiety]

  2. Fehrenbacher, A., et al. “Exposure to Police and Client Violence Among Incarcerated Female Sex Workers in Baltimore City, Maryland.” American Journal of Public Health. 2020. 110(51) [54% will have Major depressive disorder in their lifetime]

  3. Benoit, C., & Millar, A. “Dispelling Myths and Understanding Realities: Working Conditions, Health Status, and Exiting Experiences of Sex Workers.” 2001. The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research. [52% will have depression, past or current; 42% have anxiety/panic attacks]

 
  • 83% of women who sell sex on the street in Albuquerque have insurance 1

  • 83% of women who sell sex on the street in Albuquerque know their Hep C status 1

  • 71% of women who sell sex on the street in Albuquerque had an HIV test within the last year 1

  • 33% of women who sell sex on the street in Albuquerque had an STD within the last year 1

  • 54% of people who sell sex in various venues have ever had an STD 2

  • 4-8% of people who sell sex in various venues are HIV positive 2,3

    • 0.4% of U.S. adults are HIV positive (hiv.gov)

  • 70% of women who sell sex on the street in Albuquerque reported “always” using a condom 1

  1. Lusk, A. et al. “A Different Kind of Street Smarts: Human Papillomavirus Awareness Among Street-Based Female Sex Workers in Albuquerque, New Mexico.” Open Forum Infectious Diseases. 2016. 3;1315

  2. Benoit, C., & Millar, A. “Dispelling Myths and Understanding Realities: Working Conditions, Health Status, and Exiting Experiences of Sex Workers.” 2001. The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research. [4% are HIV positive]

  3. Farley, M. and Barkan, H. “Prostitution, violence, and posttraumatic stress disorder.” Women & Health. 1998; 27(3) [8% HIV positive]

 

LEAVING THE SEX TRADE

  • 71% — Of women selling sex have attempted to exit sex trade at least once 1

  • 8 — Average number of attempts to exit sex trade before permanent break 1

  • Reasons for leaving:

    • 21% hit bottom 1,2

    • 11% External pressure from loved ones 1

    • 16% quitting drugs or alcohol 1

  • Why do women go back to selling sex? They can earn money quickly and it can be difficult to get and keep a "regular" job with limited education, job experience and a criminal record (We don't have a research article to back this up. It's just the general informal consensus among women on the street)

  1. Benoit, C., & Millar, A. “Dispelling Myths and Understanding Realities: Working Conditions, Health Status, and Exiting Experiences of Sex Workers.” 2001. The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.

  2. Dalla, R. “Exposing the ‘Pretty Woman’ Myth: A Qualitative Examination of the Lives of Female Streetwalking Prostitutes.” The Journal of Sex Research. 2000. 37;(4)