Angst of city’s sex workers

Adele Horin; 20/7/06;

Sex workers on Sydney’s streets are more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder than soldiers returning from combat or police officers. Federally funded research showed most of the 72 women interviewed had experienced multiple traumas: child sex abuse, serious child neglect, rape as an adult, and work-related violence.

As a result, one-third still experience serious symptoms of post-traumatic stress such as flashbacks, recurrent nightmares, hyper-vigilance and extreme anxiety. On top of that, many suffer depression.

The research, by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of NSW, found that just under half the women had tried to kill themselves. The lead researcher, Amanda Roxburgh, said the prevalence of post-traumatic stress was higher than expected.

“Among … combat veterans and police officers it ranges from nine to 15 per cent,” she said. “The symptoms cause the women significant distress, and some symptoms impair their daily lives.”

In face-to-face interviews, three-quarters of the women revealed they had been sexually abused as children and 80 per cent had been raped and/or physically assaulted as adults. Almost 70 per cent had been threatened with a weapon or held captive.

More than 80 per cent of the women were heroin addicts. Cocaine and cannabis use were also common. Many of the women used drugs because it numbed their feelings and they “did not have to think”. A similar proportion did sex work to pay for drugs.

That two-thirds did not suffer post-traumatic stress was testimony to their resilience, Ms Roxburgh said, particularly since most of them had left home before the age of 16. NSW is the only state that permits sex workers to solicit on the streets.