The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Exiting Commercial Sexual Exploitation: Understanding the Phenomenon in India From the Perspective of Service Providers

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 8:30 AM
Nautilus 5 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Bincy Wilson, MSW, Ph.D. Candidate, State University of New York at Buffalo, Sunnyvale, CA
Background and Purpose:The increasing trend in the commercial sexual exploitation (CSE, i.e., prostitution and sex trafficking) of women and girls in India, one of the largest source, transit and destination countries for this form of exploitation, reflects gross violation of human rights. Yet, due to the transient nature of this population and the stigma attached to being in the sex trade, very little is known about the exit process of victims from CSE, thereby making services accessible to this population a challenging task. Organizations providing services to women, either currently in or exiting the trade, play a vital role in facilitating their successful exit. The research questions explored in this qualitative study are: (i) how service providers understand the exit process of women from CSE, (ii) what needs and barriers are encountered by the women during the exit process, and (iii) does the perception of service providers about the exit phenomenon have a bearing on the kind of services they offer the victims.

Methods: Thirty organizations providing varied services, such as advocating for the rights of women in prostitution, health care and HIV prevention, rescue and shelter-based services, non-residential and community-based rehabilitation, and therapeutic services, across five different cities in India – Bangalore, Mumbai, Goa, Kolkata and Delhi – were contacted, and nine agreed to participate in the study. In-depth interviewing method was used to collect data from 43 service providers at various levels – founder members, program coordinators, counselors, case managers, and outreach workers. The data was coded, and categories and themes were derived through grounded theory. Variations of thematic and content analysis were used to sort and sift through the material and identify important phrases, patterns, and themes arising from the data.

Results: There is a difference in the understanding of the exit process between organizations that provide harm reduction services and those that provide exit-specific services. In some cases, variations are also observed between service providers at the higher and lower levels within organizations. Exit is often viewed as a cyclical process where the victim makes numerous efforts to leave the trade. Factors such as the environment of exploitation (controlled vs. freedom of mobility), current age of the victim, period of stay in the trade, needs of the victim, barriers encountered while exiting and support system available to the victims, were identified as influencing the exit phenomenon. Although having alternative livelihood options was identified as a key determinant of exit from CSE, very few organizations offered concrete economic rehabilitation programs for victims to exit.

Conclusions and Implications: This research highlights that (i) exit relies on an individual’s skill, interest, support, connections and situation, (ii) services offered by organizations are highly contingent upon their understanding of the exit process, needs of victims and barriers faced, and (iii) further research is needed to better understand the exit phenomenon from the victims’ perspective – which would result in training, education and sensitization of service providers, along with developing interventions that are appropriate in different phases of the victims’ recovery process.