Sex work and adult prostitution: From entry to exit

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Sex work, better known as prostitution, has been viewed throughout American history as a moral, legal, and social problem as early as the temperance movement of the 1880s. Since 1910, pimps, customers, and women who sold sex could be punished under the Mann Act (Conant, 1996), thus solidifying sex work as a social and moral evil in the USA (Farley, 2004; Till & Gurin, 1992). This and other anti-prostitution laws drove prostitution underground, and arguably made conditions worse for persons who sell sex-particularly poor and vulnerable communities of color (Musheno & Seeley, 1986; Sanders, O’Neill, & Pitcher, 2009). Today, prostitution costs major metropolitan cities upwards of $6-9 million annually to criminalize buyers and sellers (Allard & Herbon, 2003; Ward, 2012).ABSTRACTSex work and adult prostitution are complex social problems addressed by the U.S. criminal justice system. Given the rise of sex trafficking and internet-facilitated sexual exchanges, there has been increased attention on sex work and how to best address it. The existence of varied sexual markets can lead to policy approaches that do not fully address its complexity, often harming the most vulnerable women who engage in prostitution. This chapter defines several types of commercial sex, describes adult prostitution from entry to exit, and presents an analysis of three intervention approaches designed to help women exit prostitution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHandbook of Behavioral Criminology
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9783319616254
ISBN (Print)9783319616230
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Exiting
  • Prostitution
  • Sex trafficking
  • Sex work
  • Transactional sex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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