Patterns in Groups' Perceptions of Sex Work


Criminology and Criminal Justice

Second Major



Political Science


Parry, Megan, M


Pifer, Natalie, A




Sex Work; Perception; Survey Research

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Historical evidence suggests that sex work, both legal and illegal, has long been part of society. Today, the majority of governmental bodies restrict individuals from selling and buying sex through criminalization; however, some jurisdictions are beginning to rethink this approach. Social science research shows that while sex workers are, as a population particularly vulnerable to victimization, their vulnerability is often overlooked or disregarded, likely because of the stigmatization that surrounds their work. This stigmatization is likely due to the fact that the criminalization of sex work casts the individuals who engage in sex work as criminal. Because sex workers are a vulnerable population, understanding misperceptions is an important step in destigmatizing sex workers. This study seeks to explore the beliefs and opinions people have about sex work and sex workers. This was done by surveying undergraduate students at a university in the North Eastern United States. Respondents are asked a number of questions to gauge their level of agreement about a number of popular myths about sex work and sex workers. These data are analyzed to examine what patterns of perception exist among different groups of people, based on respondents’ self-reported answers to demographic questions about their gender, field of study, and religiosity. Comparing those who report supportive views toward sex work and sex workers to those who do not and may suggest what characteristics are associated with having misperceptions about sex work and sex workers. These patterns are then analyzed using literature on gender, occupations, and religiosity in order to offer a potential explanation about what drives misperception. The paper concludes by discussing how the study’s findings might inform policy efforts to destigmatize sex workers.

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Presentation of Research and Findings

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