Using qualitative methods to study the hidden world of offstreet prostitution in Los Angeles County

by Janet Lever, David E. Kanouse

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Female prostitutes are widely believed to play an important role in the epidemiology of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV, because of their sexual activity and because some female prostitutes inject drugs or have sex with men who do. Most studies of prostitutes rely on samples from jails, STD clinics, and methadone maintenance programs, over-representing women who solicit clients in off-street locales, and revealing nothing about the size of sub-populations. The Los Angeles WomenUs Health Risk Study, relying on government agencies, directories and ethnographic informants for source material, attempts to draw a probability sample of prostitutes in a single major metropolitan area who work from indoor locations. After surveying that part of the offstreet market for prostitution in Los Angeles that occurs in locations known to have female commercial streetwalkers available, the study concludes that approximately 4,000 women were involved at the time of the fieldwork.

Originally published in: Prostitution: On Whores, Hustlers, and Johns, J. Elias et al., eds., Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1998, pp. 396-406.

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