Sex trading and psychological distress among women recruited from the streets of Harlem

El-Bassel, Nabila; Schilling, Robert F.; Irwin, Kathleen L.; Faruque, Sairus; Gilbert, Louisa; Von Bargen, Jennifer; Serrano, Yolanda; Edlin, Brian R.

Objectives: This study examines the relationship between sex trading and psychological distress and the implications of that relationship for prevention of human immunodeficiency virus among a sample of young women recruited from the streets of Harlem. Methods: Interviews were conducted with 346 predominantly drug-using women, aged 18 to 29 years, of whom 176 had exchanged sex for money or drugs in the previous 30 days and were categorized as "sex traders." Psychological distress was measured by using the Brief Symptom Inventory. Results: Sex traders scored significantly higher than non-sex traders on the General Severity Index and on eight of the nine subscales of the Brief Symptom Inventory. Multivariate analysis indicated that after adjustments were made for age; ethnicity; pregnancy; recent rape; perceived risk for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome; current, regular crack use; and current, regular alcohol use, sex traders scored 0.240 units higher on the General Severity Index than non-sex traders. Conclusions: Poor mental health and drug dependence may under-mine the motivation and ability of these sex traders to adopt safer sex behavior. Therefore, interventions need to be integrated with mental health services and drug treatment to reduce risk behavior in this population.


Also Published In

American Journal of Public Health

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Academic Units
Social Work
Published Here
April 3, 2012