IDS working papers;309

Streetwalkers show the way : reframing the global debate on trafficking from sex workers’ perspectives

Published on 1 January 2008

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.
Keywords: sexuality; sexual rights; sex work; prostitution; trafficking.

Publication details

published by
Bandyopadhyay, Nandinee


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