Biradavolu, Monica Rao and Burris, Scott and George, Annie and Jena, Asima and Blankenship, Kim, Can Sex Workers Regulate Police? Learning from an HIV Prevention Project for Sex Workers in Southern India (February 15, 2010). Social Science & Medicine, Vol. 68, No. 8, pp. 1541-1547, 2009; Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-04.
There is evidence that policing practices exacerbate HIV risk, particularly for female sex workers. Interventions in India that mobilize sex workers to seek changes in laws and law enforcement practices have received considerable scholarly attention. Yet, there are few studies on the strategies sex worker advocates use to modify police behavior or the struggles they face in challenging state institutions. This paper draws upon contemporary theories of governance and non-state regulation to analyze the evolving strategies of an HIV prevention non-governmental organization (NGO) and female sex worker community-based organizations (CBOs) to reform police practices in a southern Indian city. Using detailed ethnographic observations of NGO and CBO activities over a two year period, and key informant interviews with various actors in the sex trade, this paper shows how a powerless group of marginalized and stigmatized women were able to leverage the combined forces of community empowerment, collective action and network-based governance to regulate a powerful state actor, and considers the impact of the advocacy strategies on sex worker well-being.
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While much has been said about the risks and safety issues experienced by female sex workers in India, there is a considerable dearth of information about the difficulties and problems that sex work researchers, especially female researchers, experience when navigating the highly political, ideological, and stigmatized environment of the Indian sex industry. As noted by scholars, there are several methodological and ethical issues involved with sex work research, such as privacy and confidentiality of the participants, representativeness of the sample, and informed consent. Yet, there has been reluctance among scholars to comment on their research process, especially with regard to how they deal with the protocols for research ethics when conducting social and behavioral epidemiological studies among female sex workers in India and elsewhere. Drawing on my 7 months of field-based ethnographic research with “flying” or non-brothel-based female sex workers in Kolkata, India, I provide in this article a reflexive account of the problems encountered in implementing the research process, particularly the ethical and safety issues involved in gaining access and acceptance into the sex industry and establishing contact and rapport with the participants. In doing so, it is my hope that future researchers can develop the knowledge necessary for the design of ethical and non-exploitative research projects with sex workers.
Sex workers have reported a history of stigma associated with their identity and labor, which has resulted in numerous barriers to justice, social services, and healthcare. The current study aimed to experimentally investigate the effects of sex work stigma on observers’ victim blame and empathy toward sexual assault survivors. The participants included 197 undergraduate students from the Midwestern US who were randomly assigned to read a newspaper article reporting a sexual assault in which the victim’s identity was manipulated as a sex worker or a non-sex worker between the conditions. Results indicated participants assigned to the article describing the rape of a sex worker responded to the article with statistically less victim empathy and more victim blame than participants who read an article describing the rape of a non-sex worker. Integrating stigma theory and qualitative research on sex work stigma, the implications of the results demonstrate a significant barrier sex workers may face within the criminal justice system when reporting acts of violence against them. Recommendations for sex work decriminalization, changing the conversation of academic discourse on sex work, and educational initiatives are proposed to reduce the stigma of this marginalized population.
Based on ethnographic data collected during the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this article is interested to examine urban processes which reinvent the changing (sexual) landscape. Focusing on the way (host) cities shape sex work both imaginatively and physically, we explore the (lived) realities of neoliberal imaginaries that shape urban space. Often thought to exist in the urban shadow as an absent-presence in cosmopolitan processes, we demonstrate the manner in which sexualized and racialized women creatively resist the political and economic trajectories of neoliberal urbanism that seek to expropriate land and dispossess certain bodies. In the context of Rio de Janeiro—as in other host cities—this is particularly evident in the routine encounter between sexual minorities and local law enforcement. Mindful of the literature on state incursion into social-sexual life, we remain attentive to the everyday strategies through which those deemed sexually deviant and/or victim navigate local authorities in search of new opportunities for economic salvation in the midst of the sport mega-event.