Childhood Sexual Abuse and Sex Work….Is There A Connection?

Last week's podcast episode  was an interview on the topic of sexual abuse with Carrie Miller, our Phase 2 Program Director and a Licensed Clinical Pastoral Counselor. This week, our Executive Director, Ked Frank delves more deeply into the subject with this post on the connection between childhood sexual abuse and sex work.  The devastation of childhood sexual abuse affects way too many children each year. In 2007 there were 60,344 reported cases of sexual trauma in the United States against children (Calangelo and Cooperman, 2012). The abuse can entail contact with a child, but there is non-contact behavior that can be considered sexual abuse as well. These behaviors range from exhibitionism, gentle fondling, to forcible rape. The statistic stated earlier is abuse resulting from a contact crime.

Long-Term Effects

When sexual trauma is experienced by a child, the long-term effects can have a negative result in many areas of an adult’s life. These can range from mental disorders, marital dissatisfaction, disturbed interpersonal relationships, high-risk sexual behaviors, PTSD, suicidal tendencies, drugs, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

Women may seek counseling as a result of a struggle they are experiencing, but then realize the abuse they encountered as children is still affecting them. Calangelo and Cooperman list many studies in their journal article about struggles that women as adults experience in relationships due to that abuse. Women that have been abused have rated higher than normal difficulties with sexual satisfaction and overall relationship satisfaction (Calangelo and Cooperman, 2012).

What I found interesting about this article is the research that shows destructive externalizing behaviors from survivors of abuse. “Women abused as children are more likely than nonabused women to engage in such high-risk behaviors as multiple sexual partners; earlier consensual sexual activity, teenage pregnancy, and unprotected intercourse” (Calangelo and Cooperman, 2012, p. 18). The battle that rages internally in survivors of abuse often manifests externally in undesirable ways.


Refuge for Women has seen the reality of what is discussed in this article. Over 90% of the guests that come to Refuge for Women have experienced childhood sexual abuse. They did not have the resources to process the abuse and were not in a safe place to speak out to a trusted person. The pain was buried and the issues began. Pain seeks comfort! The choices that followed over the next ten years for the majority of our guests were attempts to relieve the suffering of the trauma.

When they come to Refuge for Women and the healing process begins, there are intentional steps taken to start uncovering the pain. The first step is giving them a safe place to reside. Guests have stated they have never felt safe a day in life. Can you imagine never being able to show weakness or share with a trusted confidant? When guests feel safe, trust starts to form. Relationships are a key aspect of what makes Refuge for Women work. Each guest is given a mentor that will meet with them each week for friendship and processing. They meet with a counselor for a designated number of sessions and process with a staff member each week. The ultimate relationship is introducing them to Jesus. When a guest realizes how loved they are by our Heavenly Father it takes them to new places in recovery.

I wish all abuse would stop! Unfortunately, it is not going to and I believe will get worse in the future. I feel that sexual addiction is going to increase in society and unfortunately children experience the overflow of adult’s shortcoming. This is the reason we encourage people to speak up if they have hidden past trauma. We are addressing the issue on podcasts and trying to create intentional conversation so families are not caught off guard. Check out our podcast as individuals share their stories and give suggestions of ways to move forward in healing.

Colengelo, J., & Keefe-Cooperman, K. (2012). Understanding the impact of childhood sexual abuse on women's sexuality. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 34(1), p. 14-37