Experiences of Sex Workers in Chicago during COVID-19: A Qualitative Study

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International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

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DOI: 10.3390/ijerph20115948


COVID-19 exacerbated health disparities, financial insecurity, and occupational safety for many within marginalized populations. This study, which took place between 2019 and 2022, aimed to explore the way in which sex workers (n = 36) in Chicago were impacted by COVID-19. We analyzed the transcripts of 36 individual interviews with a diverse group of sex workers using thematic analysis. Five general themes emerged regarding the detrimental impact of COVID-19 on sex workers: (1) the impact of COVID-19 on physical health; (2) the economic impact of COVID-19; (3) the impact of COVID-19 on safety; (4) the impact of COVID-19 on mental health; and (5) adaptive strategies for working during COVID-19. Participants reported that their physical and mental health, economic stability, and safety worsened due to COVID-19 and that adaptive strategies did not serve to improve working conditions. Findings highlight the ways in which sex workers are particularly vulnerable during a public health crisis, such as COVID-19. In response to these findings, targeted resources, an increased access to funding, community-empowered interventions and policy changes are needed to protect the health and safety of sex workers in Chicago.


International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Vol. 20, No. 11 (2023). DOI.