Drug use among female sex workers in Belgium (DRUSEB)

Research Period

October 2008 - February 2011


Federal Science Policy



Key Words

Sex workers, drug use, health


The international literature associates sex work and drug use with considerable health risks. In addition to this, these phenomena are often studied together. However, Belgium has a lack of national prevalence data about drug use within the general population and more in particular among sex workers.

Sex workers are exposed to specific health risks, among which STD’s (sexually transmitted diseases), blood borne viruses and violence. Moreover, the use of substances is associated with more risky behaviour for their health.

Several factors, such as sex work, have an impact, not only on the physical health, but also on the mental health.

Both drug use and sex work carry a criminal label which causes stereotypes and stigmatization. As a result, their social life is harmed.

Moreover, the use of health care by sex workers is limited and inconsistent. The literature indicates numerous barriers to access services. This target group needs specific care that tackles the different areas in which drug using sex workers experience difficulties.

Research Aims

  1. To study the nature and the extent of legal and illegal drug use among female sex workers in Belgium. For this purpose we include window prostitution, sex work in private houses, bars, street prostitution and – in an explorative way – the escort sector. These sectors will be examined in five cities and their surroundings (Antwerp, Brussels, Charleroi, Ghent and Liège).
  2. To map the most frequent drug-related health problems, including physical, social and mental aspects and to understand these health problems in-depth and to examine which problems are the most acute from the perspective of the sex workers.
  3. To explore their specific needs for preventive and curative drug-related health care, their knowledge on existing drug treatment, their motivations and experienced obstacles for addressing the existing drug related services.
  4. To test the findings of previous objectives against existing initiatives and practices.


By means of a literature study we will obtain a detailed picture concerning the use of drugs, drug-related health problems and -needs and experiences with drug treatment among female sex workers.

Two instruments (a quantitative and a qualitative instrument) will be developed based upon (a) existing instruments and (b) a focus group. For this occasion we will invite researchers, staff members from services that offer care for problems related to the profession of sex worker and staff members from the low threshold drug treatment.

Several objectives require a quantitative component: a reliable estimation of drug use as well as drug-related health problems and -needs and of experiences with the drug treatment necessitates quantitative measurement. At least 500 respondents in the five cities and their surroundings (100 per city and surroundings, each time 25 per type of sex worker, except for the escort sector) will be subjected to a structured questionnaire.

Within the qualitative component a checklist with open questions in a variable order will be used during a face-to-face in-depth interview. The perspective of at least 25 female sex workers (in each city, if present, the different types of sex workers and the local dominant scenes) is central to explore the underlying processes and meanings.

After the data-analysis, five focus groups will be organised with invitees that work in the field. The results obtained in the previous research phases will be presented to the participants; the focus group participants will be able to discuss their interpretation of the results. Furthermore, these groups will reflect about suitable work methods and strategies to tackle drug-related health problems and –needs.


  • VAN NUNEN, K., LEURIDAN, E., VAN HAL, G., VAN DAMME, P. & DECORTE, T. (2013). Legal and illegal drug use among female sex workers in bar and club prostitution in Belgium: a quantitative and qualitative study. Drugs: Education, prevention and policy (in press).
  • DECORTE, T. (2012), Functional and negative meanings of drug use among female sex workers in Belgium, 98-117 in: FOUNTAIN, J., KORF, D. en WOUTERS, M., The meaning of high. Lengerich : Pabst Science (forthcoming).
  • DECORTE, T. e.a. (2012). Middelengebruik onder sekswerkers in België. AnD-Tijdschrift, 11 (2), 15-16.
  • DECORTE, T. (2012). Functionele en dysfunctionele effecten van roesmiddelengebruik op vrouwelijke sekswerkers in België, 210-237 in: PAUWELS, L., en VERMEULEN, G. (eds.), Actualia strafrecht en criminologie. Update in de Criminologie VI. Antwerpen: Maklu (ISBN 978-90-466-0510-3).
  • DECORTE, T., STOFFELS, I., LEURIDAN, E., VAN DAMME, P. en VAN HAL, G. (2011). Middelengebruikers onder sekswerkers in België. Een kwantitatieve en kwalitatieve studie in vijf sectoren van de seksindustrie. Gent: Academia Press.(ISBN 978-90-382-1840-3)
  • DECORTE, T., STOFFELS, I., VAN DAMME, P., LEURIDAN, E. en VAN HAL, G. (2011), ‘Drug use among Belgian sex workers: a quantitative and qualitative study of 5 sectors in the sex industry’. Paper presented at the 22nd ESSD Conference, Aarhus (Denmark), 22-24 september 2011.
  • VAN NUNEN, K., DECORTE, T., STOFFELS, I., VAN DAMME, P., LEURIDAN, E. & VAN HAL, G. (2011). ‘Licit and illicit drug use among female sex workers in bar and club prostitution in Belgium. A quantitative and qualitative study (2009-2010)’. Poster presented at the 4th Annual European Public Health Conference, georganiseerd door de European Public Health Association (EUPHA), 10-12 November 2011, Kopenhagen (Denemarken).


  • Symposium ‘Prostitution et drogues’: Federaal Wetenschapsbeleid i.s.m. het Instituut voor Sociaal Drugsonderzoek (Ugent), Brussel, 22 november 2011.
  • Atelier de réflexion ‘Les midis du Périscope: prostitution et drogues’: Espace P i.s.m. Instituut voor Sociaal Drugsonderzoek (Ugent), Charleroi, 24 november 2011.
  • Seminarie: druggebruik sekswerkers in België: OCMW Antwerpen i.s.m. Instituut voor Sociaal Drugsonderzoek (Ugent), Antwerpen, 30 november 2011.
  • Symposium ‘Prostitution, passez derrère le rideau: Espace P i.s.m. Instituut voor Sociaal Drugsonderzoek (Ugent), Luik, 8 december 2011.
  • Seminarie: ‘Sekswerk en middelengebruik’: Provincie West-Vlaanderen i.s.m. met vzw Pasop en het Instituut voor Sociaal Drugsonderzoek (Ugent), Brugge, 20 januari 2012.