Occupational health and safety among commercial sex workers

Michael W. Ross, Beth R. Crisp, Sven Axel Månsson, Sarah Hawkes

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


The concept of occupational health and safety (OHS) for commercial sex workers has rarely been investigated, perhaps because of the often informal nature of the workplace, the associated stigma, and the frequently illegal nature of the activity. We reviewed the literature on health, occupational risks, and safety among commercial sex workers. Cultural and local variations and commonalities were identified. Dimensions of OHS that emerged included legal and policing risks, risks associated with particular business settings such as streets and brothels, violence from clients, mental health risks and protective factors, alcohol and drug use, repetitive strain injuries, sexually transmissible infections, risks associated with particular classes of clients, issues associated with male and transgender commercial sex workers, and issues of risk reduction that in many cases are associated with lack of agency or control, stigma, and legal barriers. We further discuss the impact and potential of OHS interventions for commercial sex workers. The OHS of commercial sex workers covers a range of domains, some potentially modifiable by OHS programs and workplace safety interventions targeted at this population. We argue that commercial sex work should be considered as an occupation overdue for interventions to reduce workplace risks and enhance worker safety.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-119
Number of pages15
JournalScandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2012


  • OHS
  • OSH
  • Occupational health
  • Prostitution
  • Safety
  • Sex work


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