The recent case of two Chicago police officers being investigated for trafficking a 14 year old raises the question: how frequently does police sexual misconduct and violence against sex workers occur?
There is (sadly) not a lot of good research on police violence against sex workers in the United States. Most of the work that does exist has been done in collaboration with community-based organizations. I’m attaching a few different articles that do provide rates or touch upon related concepts.
Generally speaking, most studies that I have seen find between 5-10% of respondents reported experiencing police violence. The concept of police violence itself is often sort of difficult to parse out because some studies include individuals who were impersonating police in the category or measure the rate of sex workers who report coercive sex at the hands of police. That rate, as you would expect, is much higher for harassment.
I’m including here an assortment of U.S. and international studies:
- Arrington, et al. (2008) Move Along: Policing Sex Work in Washington, DC. Washington, DC: Different Avenues. Awesome, awesome community-driven project that surveyed DC sex workers about their experience with policing. The study includes lots of statistics on exposure to violence, harassment, and arrest. The sample was largely trans women of color and street-based sex workers. An abbreviated version was also published in a peer-reviewed journal, and the full report contains all the statistical findings. Of the 104 individuals who reported police interactions, 17.3% reported being asked to provide sexual favors or services to police officers and 9.1% reported being physically assaulted or attacked by police officers.
- Decker, M.R., Pearson, E., Illangasekare, S.L., Clark, E., and Sherman, S.G. (2013). Violence against women in sex work and HIV risk implications differ qualitatively by perpetrator. BMC Public Health. Mixed method study involving 35 women involved in sex work in Baltimore, Maryland. Found that 5.7% reported being forced or coerced to have sex by police in the past month.
- Hail-Jares, K. Bad Dates: How prostitution strolls impact client-initiated violence (Forthcoming. Stu
dies in Law, Politics & Society. This study is an analysis of 282 bad date reported to HIPS over an 8 year period. We found that just over 5% of reports were tied to a police officer or someone impersonating one. That’s more than the number of bad dates that were committed by someone under the influence of drugs or alcohol and more than those related to pimping. This was approximately the same percentage as two analyses done on Canadian bad date reports:
- O’Doherty, Tamara (2011). Victimization in Off-Street Sex Industry Work. Violence Against Women.
- John Lowman & Laura Fraser (1996). Violence Against Persons Who Prostitute: The Experience in British Columbia. Ottawa:Department of Justice
Then, results more internationally:
- Odinokova, V., Rusakova, M., Urada, L.A., Silverman, J.G., and Raj, A. (2014) Police sexual coercion and its association with risky sex work and substance use behaviors among female sex workers in St. Petersburg and Orenburg, Russia. Over a third (38.2%) of a large sample (>900 female sex workers) responded that they had been coerced to have sex with police in the past 12 months. Women who responded they had been sexually coerced by police were also statistically more likely to report lifetime drug use, higher rates of overall sexual victimization, and worked in less safe venues. Put another way, police coerced and sexually exploited the most vulnerable women in the sample. (This is the highest number I’ve come across)
- Enrique, J.T., Reed, E., & Blankenship, K.M. (2011). Police-related experiences and HIV risk among female sex workers in Andhra Pradesh, India. Journal of Infectious Diseases. Found that 10.9% of a large sample (n=835) Indian sex workers reported exchanging sex with police to avoid arrest. Another 12% reported bribing police with gifts or cash to avoid arrest. And 7.4% had condoms seized by police.
- Rhodes, T., Simic, M., Baros, S., Platt, L., & Zikic, B. (2008). Police violence and sexual risk among female and transvestite sex workers in Serbia: A qualitative study. Okay, HORRIFIC language in the title, but the quotes in this article, particularly from the trans participants are fantastic. Does not provide statistics, but 31 folks participated.
For research on violence against sex workers generally, check out Michael Dango’s review of research on violence against sex workers, drafted for SWOP-Chicago in 2013.