Effects of traumatic events on sex workers' mental health and suicide intentions in Burkina Faso: A trauma-informed approach

Charles W. Cange, Andrea L. Wirtz, Odette Ky-Zerbo, Marcel Lougue, Seni Kouanda, Stefan Baral

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Data from other settings suggest that female sex workers (FSWs) are regularly exposed to violence and risks of psychological and physical trauma, although less is known about the effects of this violence. The objective of this study was to understand the experiences of violence and relationships with mental health symptomatology among FSWs. Methods: A mixed-methods design was used to explore the contexts and social perceptions of violence and mental health effects among FSW in Burkina Faso in 2013. Results: In all, 696 FSWs were recruited via respondent-driven sampling and enrolled in the study in Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso. Seventy participants were also recruited into qualitative research. Nearly two-thirds of quantitative respondents (61.7%) reported experiencing lifetime physical violence, of whom 77.4% reported experiencing violence after initiating sex work. Further, 40.9% of participants reported forced non-consensual sex, most of which occurred after they had started sex work (73.0%). In some cases, the male perpetrator used physical force to force non-consensual sex. Forced non-consensual sex was often without condoms. Among quantitative participants, 41.8% reported ever having feelings of depression; there was also a high prevalence of suicide ideation in this group. Qualitative participants also described feelings of depression, alienation, and suicide ideation. Some qualitative participants described using protective methods to avoid violence and to promote social protection among FSWs. Conclusions: The findings suggest that stigma and physical and sexual abuse are prevalent among FSWs. Within this context of sex work, lifetime experiences of physical and sexual violence were highly correlated with self-reported mental health symptoms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)348-357
Number of pages10
JournalSexual Health
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2019


  • mixed methods
  • trauma
  • violence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases


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