About Abuse

Forced Prostitution

Updated: 
September 1, 2016

Is domestic violence related to prostitution and sex trafficking?

Traffickers and pimps often target people in vulnerable situations, which could include women and girls experiencing domestic violence. Sometimes, abusers will also prostitute their partners as an extension of the abuse the victims are already experiencing. Some victims of domestic violence may turn to prostitution to escape an abuser, but prostitution is often also used as a form of abuse.

Conversely, people in prostitution are often in situations that make them vulnerable to entering into domestic violence relationships. Lack of financial resources, steady housing, or lawful employment may give abusers leverage, power, and control over a person in prostitution. And if the abuser helps the prostituted person to leave prostitution, s/he may, in turn, come to feel that s/he is dependent on the abuser or owes it to the abuser to stay with him/her even though there is domestic violence taking place in the relationship.1

1 See Dorchen A. Leidholdt, Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence: A Primer for Judges, American Bar Association The Judges’ Journal, Vol. 52 No. 1 (2013)

Can a person in prostitution be raped?

Yes.  When a person says “No,” it means no – it doesn’t matter if s/he is a prostituted person or not.  Even if s/he agrees to do one sexual act, if the john forces him/her to do a different sexual act against his/her will, that is still rape.  Prostituted people are much more likely to be raped than non-prostituted people.  A national study in 2011 found that nearly 1 out of every 5 women in the U.S. has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape.1  In comparison, an earlier study (in 1990) found that about 80% of women in prostitution have been the victim of a rape and that prostituted women are raped, on the average, eight to ten times per year2 – although the numbers may be different if this study were done today.

1National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, Center for Disease Control (2011)
2 Susan Kay Hunter and K.C. Reed, July, 1990 "Taking the side of bought and sold rape," speech at National Coalition against Sexual Assault, Washington, D.C.