Nearly 70% of female sex workers in the country have joined the profession voluntarily, and were not forced or sold.
Also, prostitution is just one among several labour options available to women from poor backgrounds — a majority of them join the trade at a much older age compared to other informal labour markets such as domestic work or hawking.
These were some of the findings of the ‘First pan-India survey of sex workers’, conducted by Pune University academicians Rohini Sahni and V Kalyan Shankar. The preliminary report of the study was released at the documentation centre of women’s group Akshara on Saturday.
The survey was commissioned by the Forum Against Oppression of Women under the aegis of the Sangli-based Centre for Advocacy on Stigma and Marginalisation, and was conducted on a sample of 3,000 female sex workers and more than 2,000 male and transgender ones from 14 states and one union territory.
“Most existing surveys of sex workers focus on counting the numbers of women in the trade and on issues of HIV and hygiene, but we have deliberately left these issues out,” said Sahni, insisting that the purpose of this survey was to bring forth the marginalised voices of sex workers themselves.
The questionnaire was finalised after discussions and interviews with several sex workers about their lives.
According to the results, 65% of sex workers come from poor families and 60% from rural areas. A majority of them join the sex trade after having worked in other labour markets, while a smaller number join prostitution directly.
“Unlike popular assumptions, sex work is not prominent in the employment of minors as compared to other labour sectors, nor is it the only site of poor working conditions,” said Sahni, who hopes that this study would provide insights to sex workers themselves about their counterparts around the country.
The next leg of this survey will analyse data on abuse, stigmas, migration patterns among sex workers and special skills needed by them.