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Leaving Prostitution

Getting Out and Staying Out of Sex Work

Sharon S. Oselin

Publication Year: 2014

While street prostitutes comprise only a small minority of sex workers, they have the highest rates of physical and sexual abuse, arrest and incarceration, drug addiction, and stigmatization, which stem from both their public visibility and their dangerous work settings. Exiting the trade can be a daunting task for street prostitutes; despite this, many do try at some point to leave sex work behind. Focusing on four different organizations based in Chicago, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and Hartford that help prostitutes get off the streets, Sharon S. Oselin’s Leaving Prostitution explores the difficulties, rewards, and public responses to female street prostitutes’ transition out of sex work.

Through in-depth interviews and field research with street-level sex workers, Oselin illuminates their pathways into the trade and their experiences while in it, and the host of organizational, social, and individual factors that influence whether they are able to stop working as prostitutes altogether. She also speaks to staff at organizations that aid street prostitutes, and assesses the techniques they use to help these women develop self-esteem, healthy relationships with family and community, and workplace skills. Oselin paints a full picture of the difficulties these women face in moving away from sex work and the approaches that do and do not work to help them transform their lives. Further, she offers recommendations to help improve the quality of life for these women. A powerful ethnographic account, Leaving Prostitution provides an essential understanding of getting out and staying out of sex work.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

First and foremost, I sincerely thank the women immersed within these prostitute-serving organizations (PSOs) who made this book possible. Most were very receptive to my presence and eagerly participated in this research project. Despite the magnitude of their own challenges and struggles, they took time to speak with me, candidly revealed their experiences...

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1. Introduction: Leaving the Tricks and the Trade

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pp. 1-19

Marquietta, a middle-aged African American woman, worked in prostitution for over 15 years in a large midwestern city. She was a woman with a sweet disposition and quick to help others, but was rather quiet and withdrawn in social settings. When talking one-on-one, however, she opened up and candidly recalled the events in her life bookended by her entrance...

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2. All in a Day’s Work: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

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pp. 20-43

When Derica, an African American, was 10 years old she became a prostitute. Among the women I spoke with this was the youngest age of initial involvement in the sex trade. When I inquired about why she first engaged in prostitution, she prefaced her explanation by admitting that male family members had molested her for years. She recalled, “To be honest and truthful...

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3. Getting In: From the Streets to the Program

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pp. 44-66

Roxanne engaged in prostitution for 38 years, holding one of the longest tenures of all the women included in this book. She was a known jokester at New Horizons, brandishing a smile just before she began teasing a staff member or fellow resident. Yet during one-on-one conversations when she spoke of more serious matters, her eyes would often fill with tears...

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4. Getting On: Role Distancing

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pp. 67-102

Beverly was a loquacious 35-year-old woman who had worked in prostitution for almost 19 years. During one of our many conversations she revealed the formidable circumstances she had experienced throughout her life, starting in her childhood. Her father was a drug dealer and pimp, and after her parents divorced when she was 10, her exposure to...

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5. Still Getting On: Embracing a New Role and Identity

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pp. 103-141

In a conversation I had with Hayley, a Hispanic New Horizons graduate, issues of her changed identity and role emerged as fundamental to her transition out of sex work. She had completed the program four years prior and was busy keeping up with the responsibilities of her new lifestyle. According to staff accounts and her own admission, Hayley put in...

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6. Getting Out: Remaining Out of Sex Work

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pp. 142-172

When I first began my fieldwork at Phoenix, Melissa was one of the most advanced program residents. She was often absent from the home due to her full-time job and college classes. But when there she made her presence known by checking in with other residents, serving as a role model, and spending time strategizing with staff about the future and her...

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Methodological Appendix

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pp. 173-182

As I discussed earlier in the book, I was able to access PSOs due to my gender, credentials, and social networks. I was able to “flaunt it when I got it”—a phrase borrowed from Julie Mazzei and Erin O’Brien that refers to a field researcher’s ability to use her or his gender in order to build rapport and gain analytic advantage while in the...


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pp. 183-190


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pp. 191-200


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pp. 201-206

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About the Author

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p. 207-207

Sharon S. Oselin is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at California State University, Los Angeles.

E-ISBN-13: 9780814770726
E-ISBN-10: 081477072x
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814785881
Print-ISBN-10: 0814785883

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2014