Experiences of Sex Workers in Chicago during COVID-19: A Qualitative Study

Randi Singer, Sarah Abboud, Amy K. Johnson, Jessica L. Zemlak, Natasha Crooks, Sangeun Lee, Johannes Wilson, Della Gorvine, Jahari Stamps, Douglas Bruce, Susan G. Sherman, Alicia K. Matthews, Crystal L. Patil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


COVID-19 exacerbated health disparities, financial insecurity, and occupational safety for many within marginalized populations. This study, which took place between 2019 and 2022, aimed to explore the way in which sex workers (n = 36) in Chicago were impacted by COVID-19. We analyzed the transcripts of 36 individual interviews with a diverse group of sex workers using thematic analysis. Five general themes emerged regarding the detrimental impact of COVID-19 on sex workers: (1) the impact of COVID-19 on physical health; (2) the economic impact of COVID-19; (3) the impact of COVID-19 on safety; (4) the impact of COVID-19 on mental health; and (5) adaptive strategies for working during COVID-19. Participants reported that their physical and mental health, economic stability, and safety worsened due to COVID-19 and that adaptive strategies did not serve to improve working conditions. Findings highlight the ways in which sex workers are particularly vulnerable during a public health crisis, such as COVID-19. In response to these findings, targeted resources, an increased access to funding, community-empowered interventions and policy changes are needed to protect the health and safety of sex workers in Chicago.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number5948
JournalInternational journal of environmental research and public health
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 2023


  • COVID-19
  • health
  • qualitative design
  • safety
  • sex workers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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