Abstract: Social Support Access and Barriers for Women in Sex Work in Cucuta, Colombia (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Social Support Access and Barriers for Women in Sex Work in Cucuta, Colombia

Sunday, January 15, 2023
South Mountain, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Megan Fabbri, PhD, PhD, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Yesenia Alvarez Padilla, MSW, Graduate Research Associate, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Magali Alba-Niño, MSW, Director Social Work Department, Universidad Simon Bolivar, Universidad Simon Bolivar, Cucuta, Colombia
Sharvari Karandikar, PhD, Associate Professor, The Ohio State University, Columbus
Valentina Coronel, \, Social Work Student, Universidad Simón Bolívar, Colombia
Maria Alejandra Pineda, Social Work Student, Universidad Simón Bolívar, Colombia
Yaina Diaz, Social Work Student, Universidad Simón Bolívar, Colombia
Background and Purpose: The social and economic crisis in Venezuela has caused the forced migration of 6 million individuals, 2 million of which have migrated into Colombia. As a border city, Cúcuta, Colombia has experienced a great influx of Venezuelans. Due to the limited job opportunities and resources in the city, many women have entered the sex industry as a means to provide for themselves and their children. However, resources are limited, and many women struggle to meet all their needs and require formal social support services. This research explores the current social support utilized by the women, the desired social support, and the availability of social support through formal organizations, while also comparing the current circumstances of Colombian and Venezuelan women in sex work.

Methods: This research was facilitated through a partnership with a School of Social Work from the United States and a Department of Social Work in Cúcuta, Colombia. Qualitative methods were used in this exploratory research. Twenty-two interviews were facilitated with both Colombian and Venezuelan women in the sex industry and six interviews were held with local social service organizations. The interviews were all conducted in Spanish. The interviews were then transcribed and translated into English and analyzed using thematic analysis.

Results: The women in this study shared that formal social support was very limited, and the women relied on informal social support, such as family members and neighbors. They also shared that they desired additional support specifically in the areas of groceries, rent assistance, and health care. Most of the women have tried to access formal services yet were denied or not provided the promised assistance. The social services organizations shared they provided gender-based violence services, case management with survivors of sexual violence, some health care services were provided, and empowerment services.

Conclusions and Implications: Both Venezuelan and Colombian women in this study shared their resilience and agency through their work in the sex industry. This work did not provide enough to ensure their needs. Greater formal social support is required to assist the women and to ensure the women have the basic necessities for life. The social services available, while important, were not specific to the women in sex work, and therefore, did not address their current needs. This research has implications for future social work practice. Social workers who work with women in sex work must practice self-determination and advocacy to ensure the needs and desires of the women are addressed, rather than assumed. Additionally, advocacy for individuals in sex work is required to work toward the decriminalization of sex work to ensure the human rights of individuals are met. These findings suggest the need for a community-based participatory research study in the future, where the women can engage in a leadership role to assist with the identification and development of needed social supports.