U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

It's a Marathon Not a Race: Exiting the Commercial Sex Trade

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2014
204 pages

This study examined the process involved for 19 women leaving the commercial sex trade, as well as the role of social service providers in facilitating this process.  


Overall, the study found that leaving the commercial sex trade is a long and complex process that requires social support and a personal determination to change one’s life. Study findings also show that current social service systems are not meeting the distinctive needs of this population. The study found that women in the commercial sex trade come into contact with a number of social service agencies, including mental health centers, the criminal justice system, child welfare agencies, drug treatment centers, domestic violence shelters, hospitals, and homeless shelters. Despite the many service contacts, however, many of the women were still unable to make a final break with the commercial sex trade. Social service agencies must make their services more accessible and responsive to this population of women. This will require that the personnel of the agencies be educated and trained in the factors, both internal and external, that bring women into the commercial sex trade. Case studies and input from women who have left this trade must also inform types of services that are most beneficial for women motivated to leave the commercial sex industry. Social workers must partner with survivors of the sex industry in the development of comprehensive and specialized programs. The study found that a particularly helpful resource involves socializing and sharing experiences with other survivors. Agencies may benefit from having survivors on staff as service providers or mentors. In addition, specialized services for these women must be long-term and include a combination of health/mental health services, drug treatment, housing support, and job training. 100 references and appended study instruments  

Date Published: July 1, 2014