Yesterday was International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Rates of violence against those involved in sex work are extremely high. Even locally we see high rates against sex workers from pimps, Johns, and law enforcement. The problem is, often these workers are not believed or taken seriously and are even victim-shamed for engaging in sex work, to begin with. This implies they deserve whatever happens because they “chose” to be a sex worker.

Hundreds of people are working as sex workers in Central Illinois. Street-based sex work, clubs/bars, hotels/motels, internet-based, escort services, massage parlors, truck stops, etc. This data was collected by Jolt Harm Reduction over the last 6 months from their outreach team members while providing outreach services across Central Illinois. This is real data from right here in our hometown. This isn’t information from a faraway land. This is happening in our own backyard.

86.4% Female
9.1% Male
4.5% Trans (MTF)

77.3% White
13.6% AfAm
9.1% Puerto Rican

Highest Level of Education
54.5% High School
36.4% College/University
9.1% Middle School

Relationship Status
71.4% Single
23.8% In a Relationship
4.8% Divorced

Do You Have Children?
72.7% Yes
27.3% No

Are They Still In Your Care?
82.4% No
17.6% Yes

When Did You Start Sex Work?
50% 18-25
40.9% Under 18
9.1% 25-30

Where Do You Sleep at Night?
45% Rental/Home
20% Relative’s Home
15% Hotel/Motel
15% Street or Public Spaces
5% Friend

Why Do You Work in the Sex Industry?
81.8% It pays the bills
63.6% It supports my drug use
Average Number of Years Worked
8 years

Who Do You Have Sex With?
59.1% Men
31.8% Women
72.7% Both

How Do You Hook Up?
63.6% Online Sites/Apps
45.5% Strip Clubs
45.5% Hotels/Motels
38.7% Street

Paying Partners (24 hours)
78.9% 1-3
21.1% 4-6

Paying Partners (30 days)
28.6% 1-10
14.3% 11-20
14.3% 21-30
14.3% 81-90

Paying Partners (12 months)
42.9% 300+
19% 1-25
9.5% 26-50
9.5% 51-75
9.5% 100-150

If You Have a Pimp/Manager, What Percentage of Profit Do They Take?
40% 50%
30% 25%
27% 75%
2.3% 95%

While Engaged in Sex Work Has Physical Force or a Weapon Ever Used Against You?
77.3% Yes
22.7% No

Average Age of Assault
21.9 years

Number of Perpetrators
41.2% 3+
35.3% 2
17.6% 1

Describe Physical Force Used Against You
“Punched, kicked, pistol wiped”
“Non-consensual, restrained, kicked punched, burnt, raped with objects, spit on, pistol-whipped, gun shoved in the mouth”
“Kicked in the head’
“Punched, shoved, slapped, stabbed”
“Slapped, kicked, thrown down stairs, bitten, gun pulled, knife held to my throat”
“Guns, knives, tied up and held against my will, hit and kicked”
“Raped, being hit, smacked, shoved down, choked or tied down. Gun pulled on me once (non-consensual or fetish related)”
“Raped at knifepoint and drugged and raped”
“Smacking and choked”
“Pistol whipped, locked in a room”
“Held down and threatened with a knife once and the other I was drugged and raped”

Sustained Injury?
80.3% Yes
19.7% No

Sexual Assault/Abuse (Under 12)
95.5% Yes
4.5% No

Sexual Assault/Abuse (Over 12)
90.9% Yes
9.1% No

Physical Assault/Abuse (Under 12)
90.9% Yes
9.1% No

Physical Assault/Abuse (Over 12)
90.5% Yes
9.5% No

Were You Present When Someone Else Was Harmed, Killed, Seriously Injured, Sexually or Physically?
77.3% Yes
22.7% No

If You Reported an Assault/Rape to Law Enforcement How Did They Respond?
54.5% They Victim-Shamed Me and Told Me It Was My Fault
27.3% They Believed Me and Assisted Me
18.2% The Did Not Believe Me and Offered No Assistance
18.2% They Charged Me With a Crime

Do You Have a Mental Health Diagnosis?
80% PTSD
60% Depression
60% Anxiety

Do You Use Drugs or Alcohol?
90.5% Yes
9.5% No

Increase or Decrease in SU After Starting Sex Work?
86.4% Increase
13.6% Stayed the Same

What is/are the Greatest Risks to Sex Work?
“Forgetting about the pain”
“Rape, abuse or death”
“Getting an std”
“Fear of being physically hurt or killed”
“Feeling like I have nothing more to offer the world besides sex”
“Bodily harm, STD, Death”
“My life. I was almost killed 3 different times”
“Murdered, STIs, getting pregnant by a john, physically harmed”
“Being arrested, robbed, raped”
“Being abused and disrespected. Fearing death at times”
“I guess getting an STI or being assaulted again”
“Diseases, risk of violence”
“Put me in risky situations/ STI”
“I’m always worried someone will turn out crazy or violent or stalk me”
“Killed and beaten up”
“My life and wellbeing. I expect to die because of a john”
“Getting sick or beat up”

We’d also like to remind everyone that not all sex work is driven pathologically. Many do it because of the earning potential and they enjoy it. Let’s not demonize nor pathologize sex work. Sex work is actual work and provides a needed service for many people. We just think people that do it should be able to do it without risk of harm.