Abstract: From Survival to Resilience: Exploring Female Sex Worker's Experiences through Trafficking and Motherhood (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

From Survival to Resilience: Exploring Female Sex Worker's Experiences through Trafficking and Motherhood

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Archives, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Megan Espana, MSW, PhD Student, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Sharvari Karandikar, PhD, Associate Professor, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Background and Purpose: Kamathipura red-light area is located in Mumbai, India and has a population of approximately 1,500 cisgender female sex workers (FSWs).  The majority of the FSWs living in this area are trafficked from either various parts of India or neighboring countries such as Nepal and Bangladesh.  However, over a period of time, former victims of sex trafficking begin to identify themselves as sex workers.  FSWs experience many challenges in Kamathipura, such as meeting monetary needs for family expenses, obtaining health-related needs, and feeling safe. While the majority of the prior research in this area has focused on needs and barriers experienced by FSWs, little is known about their resilience amidst their challenges.  This paper explores the resiliency among FSWs, who are former victims of sex trafficking and observe how their role as mother influences their resiliency. For the purpose of this paper, the participants are referred to as self-identified cisgender FSWs with former history of sex trafficking.

Methods: This study used descriptive, qualitative methods to understand mothering and resilience among cisgender FSWs of Kamathipura, Mumbai.  A total of 26 FSWs were interviewed for this study.  All interviews were audio recorded upon permission and consisted of questions pertaining to the FSW’s journey, experiences with partners, pregnancy and motherhood.  Each interview was conducted in Hindi and translated and transcribed into English. Open and axial coding were used to analyze the data.

For the purpose of this study, 14 of the 26 interviews were included, consisting of those who disclosed experiences of sex trafficking prior, as a reason for entering sex work.  FSWs were currently between the ages of 23 and 48 and were or had participated in sex work and experienced pregnancy or motherhood. 

Results: Three major themes emerged from the data analysis effort: autonomy, affinity, and aspirations.  The Majority of FSWs displayed resiliency through their role as mothers with the social support from other female sex workers.  FSWs lived in Kamathipura, while their children lived in villages with other family members.  Those who had children with them, shared childcare responsibilities with other workers or relied on older women and gharwalis (brothel keepers).  FSWs also felt safer in Kamathipura than other areas of India, since they looked out for each other, shared resources, and provided information.  Those with dependent children were less likely to have an adami (partner) with a strong focus on caring for their children.  Finally, FSWs exhibited strong future aspirations for their children  and displayed resilience through providing for and protecting their children.

Conclusion and Implications: This study demonstrates the resilience of female sex workers and the social support the FSWs provide for each other.  Since formal resources are often limited for sex workers, they must rely on and look out for each other.  This research illustrates the critical need of NGOs and other organizations to provide female sex workers and survivors of trafficking with the knowledge and skills to remain healthy and provide resources to assist with their parenting role.