Sexual Exploitation in Worcester

In last week’s blog post, I discussed the abolitionist v. pro-regulation standpoints within the prostitution debate. I’ve been starting to work with WAASE (Worcester Alliance Against Sexual Assault) over the past semester, and I’ll be working with Professor Sarkis this summer to analyze data from police records of arrests for prostitution and conduct a referral network analysis to outline where the gaps in resources for prostituted women are. I thought it would be helpful for people who have been keeping up with my blog posts on the sex industry to have my last post connect Worcester as a case study of prostitution to the international debates and policies around the sale of sex. WAASE was formed in 2012, and definitely falls under the abolition ideology of approaching prostitution. Although I don’t see that framework as effective for an international baseline, in the context of Worcester I definitely agree that the commodification of sex is not sex work. Almost all of these women were coerced into prostitution; either by a family member at a young age, or through economic necessity or addiction.

The most interesting thing for me about Worcester’s ‘case’ of prostitution is the demography of prostituted women. I don’t have access to data on sexually exploited people of other genders, so this post will be concentrated on the position of women within the Worcester sex industry. Between 2003 and 2013, 77% of arrests were of white-identified people, not including mixed-racial or racially unidentified people (Sarkis). I find the skewed racial breakdown of arrests really intriguing because even though Worcester is in New England, which is a generally white part of the country, I think of the city of Worcester itself is pretty racially diverse.

From my conversations with Professor Sarkis and other activists within WAASE, I’ve gathered that the prostitution industry in Worcester is not gang run. Most of the women in the life have been introduced through familial connections, through a boyfriend or a friend. 95 per cent of women identified as having been prostituted throughout the WAASE outreach surveys and data collection self-report a history of drug abuse or addiction, and 55 per cent of them used drugs before being sexually exploited. 44 per cent are either homeless or without a stable living environment, which is a low estimation for the accurate number of exploited women because long-term housing is not guaranteed within the 44 per cent that report having an immediate living space (WAASE).

So where does this leave us? Main South is a neighborhood within Worcester known for prostitution, associated with crime and gang activity. While the statistics provided seem disheartening, the movement against the ‘prostitution situation’ has made major gains over the last few years. WAASE has made exceptional progress with the Worcester Police Department and the Vice squad in changing the targets of prostitution arrests. In 2013, there were 179 sexually exploited women and only 3 johns arrested (Brindisi). WAASE has worked with the police department to provide alternatives to arrest for sexually exploited women picked up on the street for prostitution, including rehabilitation treatment instead of arrest. At a community forum for prostitution a few weeks back, Lt. Scampini stated that in the last year, 68% of prostitution-related arrests were male. This is not to say that all people who buy sex are male, but the trends in the existing data for Worcester show that johns are overwhelmingly male. Between December of 2014 and October of 2015, there were a total of 473 arrests for selling sex, and a total of 94 women (WAASE). This data clearly shows that if every women who is arrested for prostitution is being arrested 5 times a year, there are a lot more people who buy sex than people who sell sex.

Shop owners and residents of Main South report a clear reduction in the amount of street-based prostitution since WAASE has put pressure on the police department to shift sting arrests to focusing on johns, and offering alternative treatment in place of arrest for prostituted women (Croteau). Throughout my work with WAASE and Abby’s House, it’s become clear to me that sexually exploited women do not fit into a typical women’s shelter or domestic violence shelter model. Prostituted women living in general homeless shelters report additional violence towards them because of their history of sexual exploitation, and ‘regular’ shelters prove to be incompatible with those still engaged in selling sex. Women also are not able to bring clients back to shelters, and are often required to be in the shelter by a certain time of night (Breakstone). The intersection of addiction, abuse, assault, and trauma from the life of prostitution require a survivor-led housing model specific to the recovery of exploitation survivors. WAASE is currently working towards this goal of a survivor housing project, but there needs to be much more support both from the community and the city.


Ways to Help

There is a huge need for help with data analysis and community outreach over the summer- get in contact with me if you’re interested!

The #1 thing that members of WAASE have told me is the best way for the community to get engaged on a daily basis is to treat women on the street with respect

Text tips of suspected johns, pimps, license plates etc. to 274637

Visit the WAASE website to learn about volunteer opportunities



Breakstone, Chelsea. “I DON’T REALLY SLEEP”1: STREET-BASED SEX WORK, PUBLIC HOUSING RIGHTS, AND HARM REDUCTION. Issue brief. 337th ed. Vol. 18. New York City: CUNY LAW REVIEW, 2015. Print.

City of Worcester, Massachusetts. Division of Public Health. Worcester Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation. By Derek S. Brindisi. Worcester: City of Worcester, 2014. Print.

Croteau, Scott J. “Why Worcester Police Still Target Women in Prostitution Stings.” Mass Live. N.p., 26 Jan. 2016. Web.

Sarkis, Marianne, PhD. Worcester Prostitution-Related Arrests 2003-2013. 2014. Raw data. Worcester, MA.

WAASE, Bell, Nichole, Karen Riley-McNarry, Marianne Sarkis, Heidi-Sue LaBoeuf, Athena Haddon, and Joseph Scampini. “WAASE COMMUNITY FORUM ON PROSTITUTION.” The Woo Church, Worcester, MA. 6 Apr. 2016. Speech.