- Dr EW Plumridge ( Chch School of Medicine )
- Ms C Kearney (198 Youth Health Centre, NZ Prostitutes Collective)
To improve mental health services for sex workers in Christchurch
A cross sectional survey will be carried out of counsellors, psychotherapists and psychologists who provide counselling services in the community to sex workers. Sampling frames will include professional advertisements, and lists of approved professionals working with the Accident Compensation Corporation, the Family Court and community based mental health services (e.g. sector teams) and addiction services (e.g. CADS and the Methadone Programme). All relevant individuals will be included in the mail out survey. The questionnaire will focus on professional opinions about the impacts of sex work, and on information needs of professionals working with female sex workers. Questions will be closed answer and multiple-choice responses to scenarios (used with success in overseas research on general practitioners' responses to Hepatitis C). Results will be aggregated descriptive statistics.
Current research on the sex industry points to the importance of stigma and isolation as factors underpinning the sexual practices of female sex workers. It also shows that many such women have recourse to mental health services of some description and have uneven experiences as consumers once their occupational status is disclosed. Some report unhelpful or traumatic experiences, or do not disclose for fear of adverse response.
The New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC) has a regular part in the teaching of third year and fifth year medical students but contact with mental health workers is limited to those who chose to initiate contact. This survey would be the first study of the knowledge, attitudes and beliefs of mental health professionals who might come in contact with sex workers. Sex workers currently number about 450 in Christchurch and since turnover in the industry is high, this issue is significant to a considerable number of women in the community. The results of the survey will inform the content and targeting of educational efforts by NZPC to mental health workers.