sexual violence

For sex workers, more abuse also means greater chances of infection

A study explores the link between sexual, emotional and physical violence and sexually transmitted infections

Anjana’s working life and downward spiral began before she turned 15.

With an alcoholic father, mother and two younger sisters to support, Anjana (name changed) started working at the age of 14 as a local doctor’s assistant in the town of Dharmapuri in northern Tamil Nadu.

Later, while working as a domestic help at a lawyer’s house, she was sexually exploited by her employer who put her in touch with pimps and made her trade sex for money. Anjana narrated her story to Sri Bhavani, a consultant with Swasti Health Resource Centre, a Bengaluru-based nonprofit.

By the age of 17, Anjana – then a slim, quiet teenager – was a sex worker. During the course of her life, she has frequently been physically abused by clients, husband and partner, forced to have sex, and today lives with HIV/AIDS, as does her husband. She now earns Rs 15,000 per month, but even this – as we shall see – is unlikely to make her life more peaceful.

Like Anjana, a fifth of women sex workers live with violence, attacked four times a month on average, according to an analysis of data on 1,09,366 sex workers, gathered over six months to September 2015, by Swasti Health Resource Centre as part of its work under the Avahan initiative (Phase 3).

Those with more clients and income were more likely to be attacked, the data reveals, which in turn places them at greater risk of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. This could be because they were less likely to get tested.

As many as 24,815 women – or 22.7% – reported 92,838 bouts of sexual, emotional and physical violence against them in the six-month period of the survey, carried out in five states: Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

The most prevalent form of violence is physical with 39,832 incidents reported, followed by emotional (35,887) and sexual violence (17,119).

Violence increases risk of infection

As the data below shows, violence inflicted on sex workers increases their risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections, including AIDS. While sexual violence has a more obvious connection to sexually transmitted infections, physical and emotional violence also play a major role in increasing their vulnerability.

Source: Swasti Health Resource Centre
Source: Swasti Health Resource Centre

Sex workers are among those most vulnerable to HIV infection, according to this 2005 World Health Organisation report.

“Violence has a direct and indirect bearing on sex workers’ ability to protect themselves from HIV and maintain good sexual health,” said the WHO report. While direct impact involves incidents of rape and forced sex, the indirect impact of violence manifests itself in the inability of sex workers to negotiate safer sex with clients, partners and other possible sexual partners.

In India, female sex workers have the third-highest HIV prevalence – the proportion of population with a particular disease at a specified point in time or over a period of time – among key risk groups, according to the department of AIDS control’s annual report, 2013-'14.

Source: Department of AIDS Control Annual Report (2014-15), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India
Source: Department of AIDS Control Annual Report (2014-15), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India

Timely diagnosis

Anjana knew she and her husband had HIV-AIDS because non-government organisations associated with the National Aids Control Programme persuaded them to get tested.

She was started on anti retroviral therapy, a cocktail of drugs that suppresses the virus and impedes HIV’s progression. While her husband refused the medication, Anjana – who was pregnant by then – took it on a counsellor’s persuasion. Her son, who is 10 years old today, did not contract the virus.

So, regular testing for sexually transmitted infections is important for sex workers and their children. But, as the Swasti study shows, violence impedes the chances that a sex worker will be tested for HIV.

While 95% of women who had faced less than six incidents of sexual violence tested for sexually transmitted infections/HIV, 89.5% of those who had faced more than six incidents did.

Women who faced lesser violence also tended to be tested as the norm requires – two times a year, which means every six months.

Source: Swasti Health Resource Centre
Source: Swasti Health Resource Centre

Struggle for survival

Poverty not only forces women like Anjana into sex work, it also makes them vulnerable to violence. More money and more clients are correlated with more violence and sexually transmitted infections.

Source: Swasti Health Resource Centre
Source: Swasti Health Resource Centre
Source: Swasti Health Resource Centre
Source: Swasti Health Resource Centre
Source: Swasti Health Resource Centre
Source: Swasti Health Resource Centre
Source: Swasti Health Resource Centre
Source: Swasti Health Resource Centre

More than a quarter of sex workers are attacked by clients. As Anjana related, on some occasions while a single client approaches a woman, upon arrival she is confronted with the prospect of engaging with many more.

In such cases, reluctant sex workers are often forced to have sex without their consent, a fate that Anjana escaped twice. Spouses or husbands and partners or boyfriends also inflict violence.

Source: Swasti Health Resource Centre
Source: Swasti Health Resource Centre

More than half of all sex workers – 55,930 – operate from home, while 15,314, or 14%, work from brothels or lodges; 4,741, or 4.3%, from bars and the remaining 32,184, or 29.4%, operate from locations that include streets and markets. Some are devdasis (temple prostitutes). Those who work from brothels or lodges are at greatest risk of violence.

Source: Swasti Health Resource Centre
Source: Swasti Health Resource Centre

Legal position

Sex work in India is ambiguous legal territory. It is not a crime, but running brothels and soliciting clients are illegal under the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (1956). The Act was established to curb trafficking and combat sexual exploitation for commercial purposes but police and courts increasingly interpret it in ways that lead to harassment, detention and arrest of sex-workers, endangering them further.

Anjana narrated how she has been forced to have sex with thugs and pimps without contraceptives, knowing the police will not step in. So, most sex workers do not report violence; if they do, between a fourth to a fifth choose community organisations – 81% of sex workers surveyed were registered with such organisations – the data shows.

Social support is important for sex workers to “challenge power relationships and structural barriers that contribute to their vulnerability”, said this 2012 report in the British Medical Journal. It cites the ongoing Avahan initiative to explain how community organisations empower sex workers, reduce violence and address healthcare discrimination.

Back in Dharmapuri, Anjana’s priorities are to save enough for her son, whom her husband and in-laws have yet not accepted – and to live long enough to see him grow up to be a financially independent adult.

This article first appeared on IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.