Family Backgrounds of Teenage Female Sex Workers in Istanbul Metropolitan Area *

Article excerpt


The International Labour Organisation targeting to eliminate child labour is directing special attention to one of its most intolerable and abusive forms- juvenile prostitution. The strategies addressed to this serious social problem call for the protection, rehabilitation and resocialisation of these young women confronted with great traumatising behaviour.

A person during childhood is vulnerable and for her, the danger of being exploited is greater. In the current climate of the power structure of the society, an individual, especially an underage person, may easily cede control of her/his life circumstances to the predominant influence of the market in this modernising world. Taking all this into consideration, it is not wrong to describe juvenile prostitution as 'forced labour'.

Based on the data accumulated in a study undertaken in Istanbul in 1998 (1), this paper will explore the family backgrounds of teenage female sex workers in the Istanbul metropolitan area. A backplan of the Turkish traditional-rural culture with its norms and values in its transplanted form in an urban setting (Istanbul) will be presented.


Grounded theory approach and qualitative research were adapted as the method of research and evaluation of the data gathered through in-depth interviews with 30 participants between the ages of 14-18. Each interview was audio recorded. The locations, where the interviews were conducted are some of the main bureaus of the Istanbul Police Headquarters and the City Venereal Disease Hospital.

The questionnaire covering 426 corresponding open and close end questions were designed to reveal: the family backgrounds, the history of absconding, migration, types and conditions of work, forms of abuse and the risks confronted, education, health issues, addiction, issues related to the public authorities, daily life and leisure time activities, friendship networks opinions about their work and the self, views relating to the self and work, their future aspirations, opinions about a Refuge Center. The duration of each interview was approximately between three and half to five hours. With some of the participants, it was possible to meet on other occasions. Some of them who contacted us and made appointments to meet at a coffee house or a pastry shop, made it possible to check once again the information gathered in the former interviews. It is not claimed that the survey population is a representative sample of all the TFSW in Turkey. Since, one life story seemed as the carbon copy of the other and the main incidents highlighted during the interviews were repetitive, we felt contented with the number of girls we were able to contact and the data accumulated, The striking similarities in the working mechanisms of the institution of prostitution itself and the conditions confronting the teenage prostitutes, even in different countries, is amazing.

The findings about the family background of the participants were evaluated in terms of the values and norms salient in the traditional -- rural Turkish culture, such as those related to the child rearing practices, the patriarchal family structure, gender biases -- as concepts of virginity, honor.

This is a study on a very sensitive topic. In this type of research, in many situations 'fear of scrutiny' is frequently seen (Payne, 1980). The researcher can be identified as someone explicitly seeking discrediting information. Beginning from the design of the questionnaire, and its application everything is critical. There is always a strong risk of refusal to participate. So, we had to be very careful about how we introduced ourselves. It was extremely important to assure the participants that we were really academicians and not the members of the police or media. We showed our identities and in some cases invited them to the university campus--two of them later paid such a visit. …


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