“I cannot say “No” to any kind of brutality, be it sexual or verbal. Men come to us not for pleasure but to let out their anger and anxieties” said one of the sex worker. Intimate partner violence is still a term not known by the women in our society. The right to say “No” to your partner for acts that question your self- esteem and safety. Our women in general have been raised in a way that this has been engraved in their mind that once they get married their husband owns their body and if she is not obeying him she will be punished by God. Intimate Partner violence and its different forms are not reported because majority of women consider it as a part of their married life and their duty.. Discussing such issues in families can raise several questions including their character.
Intimate Partner violence is definite or threatened physical, sexual, psychological violence by current or former partners against the same or opposite sex. Partner violence is reflected by means of both its frequency and adverse consequences. Women are more likely to become the victim by of partner violence including rape, physical assault, being degraded , humiliated and stalked by the intimate partner. Violence against female sex workers is no different from violence against women in general but due to the humiliation connected to being a female sex worker they are unwilling to talk about it. The cultural context as marginalised females further effects their experiences of violence. Cultural context asserts that violent behavior is normal for these marginalized groups so this factor makes it difficult for these women to escape or seek help.
“We face violence not only from our customers but also from our husbands too, they just treat us as money making machines and an object for physical pleasure. We get to hear from our partner that if you can offer everything to your customers then why not us. Safe sex is not a choice that we have”.
Female Sex workers are being subjected to exploitation by police, pimps, clients and community leaders because of their illegal status. Therefore this group is a target of violence, HIV and several mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, drug addiction and poor body image leading to low body esteem. Sex workers as a marginalized group, experience worse health issues than comparable age groups of the general population. Sex workers do not fit into the public health framework of occupational health because of the illegal and stigmatizing nature of sex work. These females experience various expressions of violence in their daily lives from insults to murder. Sexual and physical violence like abuse and rape are predominant among female sex workers. Drug addiction such as alcohol consumption is another most significant indicator of violence towards female sex workers.
S.A, a 21 year old female sex worker who recently moved to Lahore and settled in a hostel. She moved to Lahore to support her family and ended up becoming a sex worker. While narrating her experience she said “I was picked from a hostel by a boy and I had no clue where I was going. All I knew was that a handsome amount will be paid to the dealer and she will get a share from that amount. When she reached there she was gang raped which was not part of the deal and she was not allowed to report this at any level because she was paid..!!
Experience of increased violence creates numerous problems such as psychosocial distress and depression and risk taking behaviours in female sex workers. Psychological distress and overall violence is associated with three specific types of violence toward female sex workers i.e. emotional violence such as emotional abuse or verbal assaults, physical violence such as physical assaults and sexual violence such as rape, sexual coercion. In Pakistan there is limited research in this area, however one research conducted in GC University Lahore by Iftikhar and Sarfraz (refrence) has looked into the phenomenon of Intimate partner violence faced by Female sex workers. Their results show that intimate partner violence is a strong indicator of psychological distress. Their study included 60 female sex workers from different areas of Lahore with an age range between 18-40 years. Out of these 56 had clinically significant psychological distress (93%) and they reported higher levels of Intimate partner violence. One of them reported that they are considered as a punching bag by their customers, majority of them come drunk or frustrated and then they use their bodies to get rid of that anger and frustration.
Female sex workers are that part of our society that are deprived of basic rights, they are exploited by their own families and then by their customers. We do talk about women rights but why do we forget this marginalized group which is suffering psychologically and we have no rehabilitation places for their mental health concerns or laws that protect them from violence from their partners.
By Naeema Sarfraz (Clinical Psychologist)