Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)


Graduate Department of Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Nancy Thurston, PsyD

Second Advisor

Celeste Jones, PsyD

Third Advisor

Mark McMinn, PhD


When thinking of an individual employed as a sex worker, one may imagine two common media portrayals; a young, good-hearted, traumatized prostitute in need of saving, and the other a more experienced and perhaps culpable person “of the night” (Dalla, 2000). However, this dichotomous view fails to account for the autonomy of the worker, or adequately capture the complex range of motivations that bring individuals into the field (Chudakov, Ilan, Belmaker, & Cwikel, 2002). This research has been complicated by the criminalized nature of sex work, as well as common cultural moral objections to the services of this industry. This present study seeks to examine childhood experiences of adversity, resilience, and occupational motivation amongst sex work employees. Participants (n = 38) of many diverse gender identities, ages, geographic locations, sexual orientations, and employment statuses were asked to complete a mixed-method online survey. These individuals who identified as sex workers completed the Adverse Childhood Experiences Scale (ACEs), the Connors-Davidson Resilience (CD-Risk) scale, and a Likert-scale that assessed participants’ perspectives of their occupational motivation. The first hypothesis was that there would be a negative correlation between overall ACES and resilience scores. The second hypothesis was that overall ACES scores would have a positive relationship with occupational motivation, in which circumstance workers endorse higher numbers while choice workers endorse lower numbers on the Likert scale. Results of the first two hypotheses yielded insignificant or weak correlations (insufficient power). The third hypothesis was that there would be a negative graded relationship between resilience scores and occupational motivation. Results of the first two hypotheses yielded insignificant or weak correlations (insufficient power), though their correlations were in the expected direction. Results of the third hypothesis indicated a significant and strong relationship between resilience and occupational motivation of sex workers (choice to circumstance), so that those who evidenced more resilience were also more likely to be employed by choice. A fourth hypothesis was unable to be examined at this time. Two additional qualitative questions were asked to build rapport and allow for feedback from participants, which then inform the implications and future research portions of this study.