Sexual Service as a Commodity: Analyzing the Ethicacy of Anti-Trafficking and Legalization Movements

Katie Stickney, SIT Graduate Institute - Study Abroad

India: Health and Human Rights


This study analyzes social determinants and healthcare accessibility of HIV positive former female sex workers. A primary sub-theme of this paper is to illustrate the current dialogue between anti-trafficking organizations and programs focused upon the legalization of prostitution.

The principal methods of this research consisted of formal interviews with staff members of the NGOs Sanlaap and Durbar, informal group sessions with previously trafficked girls, and three life-history interviews with HIV-positive women. Sanlaap is a grass-roots program that focuses on the various circumstances surrounding the trafficking of the girl child within the South Asian market. Durbar advocates for recognition and empowerment of the female sex worker.

Following this study it became increasingly evident that there is a strong social stigma attached to both the commercial sex work industry as well as HIV that inhibits the ability of these young women to become both economically independent and ensure a greater amount of control over their sexuality. However, when provided with alternative working environments as well as community-based initiatives, these women are able to establish a stronger sense of social identity.

It could be suggested a deep threaded connection exists between human trafficking for sexual exploitation and the commercial sex industry. When we fail to recognize the circumstances in which a woman becomes a female sex worker, we begin to believe that the commodification of a human being is possible under particular legislation. Furthermore, when strictly adhering to one of two separate ideologies: empowerment of the female sex worker or the rehabilitation of the “victim” of circumstance, we overlook the notion of demand for the commercial sex industry itself. Thus, an emphasis needs to be placed upon the client.