Council Research Offers Insights into Meeting the Health Needs of Vulnerable Female Sex Workers

Population Briefs, June 2012 | Go to article overview

Council Research Offers Insights into Meeting the Health Needs of Vulnerable Female Sex Workers


Recent Population Council studies have identified new details about the lives of sex workers--about their reasons for entering sex work and their daily experiences--that will help the government of India shape more successful policies and interventions to protect them from HIV.

Over a two-year period, Population Council researchers surveyed some 5,500 female sex workers from four states with high HIV prevalence: Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu. They focused on women who had moved to at least two different places for sex work in the past two years, as part of a major five-year study aimed at understanding the role of migration and mobility in vulnerability to HIV.

While some women enter sex work by choice or because it is a family profession, Population Council researchers found that more than 85 percent of Indian women who travel to find sex work were trafficked (i.e., forced, deceived, or trapped), or do so because of poverty, domestic violence, or other negative social conditions.

"One common pathway into sex work is the desire to escape from marital life, which represents freedom from violence, humiliation, and dominance from the husband," says Population Council demographer and biostatistician Niranjan Saggurti, lead researcher on the study. "These women also have a desperate need to earn money for self-survival and to provide for the family."

Council research has shown that these impoverished women are significantly less likely to use a condom every time they have sex than are women who enter sex work by their own choice or because it is a family profession. More than 40 percent of them drink heavily. They also face rape and physical abuse. These women are significantly more likely than others to experience reproductive and sexual health risks, including unplanned pregnancy, forced abortion, and stillbirth. These circumstances greatly compromise their health and well-being.

Building skills and knowledge

On the basis of these findings, the Population Council delivered recommendations to the Government of India and the agencies that implement HIV prevention programs in various states. …

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Council Research Offers Insights into Meeting the Health Needs of Vulnerable Female Sex Workers
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