Original Paper

Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 29, Issue 2, pp 129-154

First online:

Vice Careers: The Changing Contours of Sex Work in New York City

  • Alexandra K. MurphyAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, Princeton University Email author 
  • , Sudhir Alladi VenkateshAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, Columbia University

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In the mid-1990s, changes to law enforcement strategies in New York City pushed many women working in the sex trade off of the streets and into the indoors. Increasing numbers of women began advertising sexual services in bars, over the Internet, and in print media, and conducting their work in their homes, hotels, and brothels. This study uses in-depth interviews and participant observation to examine the impact of this change on the life and work of women working in New York’s indoor sex trade. A critical finding is that as women move their work indoors, they begin to conceive of sex work as a profession and a career, rather than just a short-term means of employment. This “professional and careerist orientation” may have significant implications for the length of women’s tenure in sex work and ultimately, for their ability to exit the trade completely.


Sex work Prostitution Career Profession Mobility Ethnography