Streetwalkers Show the Way: Reframing the Global Debate on Trafficking from Sex Workers’ Perspectives
IDS Working Paper 309
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This paper documents action research and discussions on trafficking by Durbar, a network of 60,000 female, male and transgender sex workers in India. Durbar finds that the realities of trafficking as experienced by sex workers are very different from the myths.
Durbar's research found that while most of the sex workers they interviewed were poor and lacked options, they left home by their own choice, in search of better livelihoods, to escape violence or drudgery, or to seek love. Numerous agents, many of them known to the trafficked individuals, facilitated their subsequent travels and entry into sex work.
Many of those trafficked into sex work were able to negotiate better terms within a year or two, after which they were free to leave but stayed in the industry because of the economic incentives, and because returning to their families was no longer an option due to the stigma associated with sex work.
Durbar concludes that the fundamental cause of trafficking is the persistent demand for using trafficked workers who can be made to work without being provided fair wages or safe working conditions, thereby hiking the profit margins of the employers. Thus Durbar sees as most urgent the need to establish better labour standards in sex work, and support individual sex workers tackling exploitative situations.
This includes supporting unwilling and underage sex workers by helping them decide what to do, rather than handing them over to the police where they are likely to face more harassment. Durbar has done this effectively through setting up ‘Self Regulatory Boards' in sex work sites. To date Durbar has rescued a total of 560 unwilling women and underage girls. And in sites where Durbar works, the proportion of sex workers under 18 years old declined from 25.3 per cent in 1992 to 3.1 per cent in 2001.