Accounting for and managing risk in sex work: A study of female sex workers in Hong Kong

Nga Cheung

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis considers how in the course of their work female sex workers in Hong Kong experience risk. It concerns the indoor side of the sex market, an area which has so far been largely ignored in studies on commercial sex. The focus is on women working independently from flats. Focusing on women’s own accounts of work-related risks, risky behaviour and coping strategies, this study investigates sex workers’ reflexive understandings of prostitution and their occupational risk in late modern societies. The study emphasises the social, cultural, interactional and situational context, to understand the ways in which women involved in sex work conceptualise and respond to risk.
There are three main themes emerge in sex workers’ accounts. The first one is sexual health and diseases. In this empirical chapter, the main focus is on the flat-working women’s accounts of themselves and their risk-taking (or risk-avoiding) behaviour in (potentially) risky situations, where, for example, unprotected sex has occurred. The findings suggest that, despite sex workers are being frequently seen as most susceptible to sexual health problems, the social norms which exist among sex workers and their clients play a crucial role in enabling sex workers to gain control over the sexual encounter and avoid risk behaviour.
The next theme is violence against sex workers. Findings suggest that what violent crime symbolises in the context of sex work is that some women are beneath contempt because of their working identity. It is more “acceptable” to perpetrate violence against sex workers because this group is set apart from women in other service occupations.
The last theme is concerned with sex workers’ accounts of their emotional experiences at work, which mainly explores how social and cultural factors influence individuals’ interpretation and accounts of their emotions. Accounts given by women demonstrate that many of them seemingly did not conceive their involvement in the sex business as “wrong”. Nevertheless, because sex work is still largely marginalised and stigmatised in Chinese societies, they might experience unpleasant emotions which were mostly related to the “whore” stigma.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Gabe, Jonathan, Supervisor
  • Lee, Raymond, Supervisor, External person
Award date1 Dec 2011
Publication statusUnpublished - 2012


  • Sex work
  • Risk
  • Sexual health risk
  • Violence
  • Emotional labour

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