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PLoS One. 2015 Sep 28;10(9):e0139161. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0139161. eCollection 2015.

Intimate-Partner and Client-Initiated Violence among Female Street-Based Sex Workers in China: Does a Support Network Help?

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Department of International Health, School of Nursing and Health Studies, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., United States of America.
Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, New York, United States of America.
Shanghai Piao Xue, Shanghai, China.
Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, Fudan University, Shanghai, China.



Globally, female street-based sex workers are vulnerable to gender-based violence. Previous research has shown having a peer social network can reduce sex workers' risks of victimization. However, mechanisms of how social network impacts violence among female street-based sex workers are still far from clear.


Our study was based on data abstracted from a paper-and-pencil survey administered among 218 female street-based sex workers in Shanghai, China. We focused on self-reported client-initiated violence and intimate-partner violence in emotional, physical, and sexual forms. Social networks were characterized by the size and sources of financial and psychosocial support (e.g. family, friends, and peers). Multi-variable logistic regression was used to estimate adjusted odds ratios (AOR) of each type of violence exposure by social network structure after the adjustment of age, education, and years in Shanghai.


The street-based female sex workers in our study were primarily rural-to-urban migrants (95.7%) with an average age of 41 years old. 24.3% and 62.8% of the sex workers reported intimate-partner violence and client-initiated violence respectively. Lack of financial support, as defined by having only one individual or none in her peer support system to help financially, was significantly associated with self-reported intimate-partner violence (AOR: 2.5; 95% CI: 1.1-5.9). Respondents who reported client-initiated violence, by contrast, were more likely to report lacked psychosocial support from family (AOR: 2.2, 95% CI: 1.0-4.6) and peers (AOR: 5.1, 95% CI: 2.2-11).


This study is one of the first to systematically analyze the associations between social network and gender-based violence among street-based female sex worker. We reported a high prevalence of both types of gender-based violence and their complex associations with family, friends, and peer support network. Policies with goals to reduce violence against women may apply these findings to leverage social network in the interventions against gender-based violence.

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