This study documents the reasons and processes for involvement of women into sex work in India. The study is based on in-depth interviews with a cross-section of commercial sex workers in four Indian states – Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. It shows that most women enter sex work due to a complex set of reasons as opposed to any one single over-riding reason. While abject poverty was cited as the main cause by almost three-fourths of the women interviewed, lack of education, financial freedom, domestic violence, family responsibility, lack of support by family members and harassment and abuse in society and in the workplace, were other inter-linked factors facilitating involvement into sex work. Some women reported that they were pushed into sex work by deception or force by known or unknown persons. Many women who initiate sex work are not forced physically, but do so because of reasons over which they had little or no control. In this sense, initiation into sex work is far more complicated than a simple distinction of ‘voluntary’ and ‘involuntary’ as explained by other studies in India and around the world.
Key words: Female sex workers, India, involvement in sex work, HIV risk.
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