South India AIDS Action Programme (SIAAP) surveyed 1000 women sex workers in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Pune in 2019, reports Times of India. The study was done to assess the impact of sex work on the quality of their lives. About 500 of the workers that constitute about 50 percent admitted that they face violence. These women face adversities not only in their line of work but their personal lives as well because of choosing sex work as their means of livelihood.

Almost 46 percent of sex workers have experienced violence in the past six months. Out of these, 40 percent belong to Tamil Nadu, nine percent to Karnataka and five percent to Pune. However, only two percent of them, those belonging to Tamil Nadu sought legal help because they fear that they will be arrested for indulging in sex work though it is not illegal and done without violating the clauses of Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956.

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Senior officials from the social welfare department said that they are planning to come up with a separate policy to protect the rights of the female sex workers in the state. This would allow them to avail healthcare, legal aid and other benefits enjoyed by the rest of the women.

Janani Venkatesh, project officer of SIAAP, told TOI, “Most of them face domestic violence from the family members, particularly husbands for earning through sex work to make ends meet. Violence from customers is very less. Some clients would refuse to use condoms leading to arguments and violence.” The survey brought forward stories of many sex workers who have had to face violence from police, healthcare providers, clients, rowdies, and pimps. They rarely resort to legal action since they fear negative consequences. An even more surprising finding from the survey was that 40 percent of the doctors do not prefer treating sex workers as they think it would reduce their clientele.

Dr S M Manivannan, District Program Manager (DPM) of the District AIDS Prevention and Control Unit (DAPCU), Trichy, stated that the introduction of several government programs sensitise with these workers and they also get regular treatment at the sexually transmitted infections (STI) clinics to prevent HIV infection.

Senior officials from the social welfare department said that they are planning to come up with a separate policy to protect the rights of the female sex workers in the state. This would allow them to avail healthcare, legal aid and other benefits enjoyed by the rest of the women. The official further mentioned the presence of Ujjwala homes meant to help women sex workers. In-charges conduct regular awareness programs and also provide rescue and rehabilitation facilities. However, they can only extend support if the workers come forward voluntarily. Running such homes has several risks involved and thus there are only six of them in the state.

From our experience, we have seen that women are mostly forced into their jobs by their kin and they are often exploited, they go into depression, substance addiction, etc. and they all want to come out of it and lead a better life.

Sujata Mody, president of Penn Thozhilalargal Sangam, talked about the stigma associated with the female sex workers and how everybody looks down upon them. They face criminalisation in their daily lives with negligible help from the state.

Isabel Richardson, director of Madras Christian Council of Social Service, the only Ujjwala home in Chennai told the national, “From our experience, we have seen that women are mostly forced into their jobs by their kin and they are often exploited, they go into depression, substance addiction, etc. and they all want to come out of it and lead a better life.”

Female sex workers deserve to lead better lives with dignity. They are doing these jobs only because they need money to raise families.

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Saavriti is an intern with SheThePeople.TV

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