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Keywords:

  • female sex work;
  • typology of female sex work;
  • India
  • professionnelles du sexe;
  • typologie de la prostitution féminine;
  • Inde
  • trabajo sexual femenino;
  • tipología del trabajo sexual femenino

Summary

  1. Top of page
  2. SummaryTypologie des professionnelles du sexe en Inde dans le contexte du VIH/SIDA: revue systématiqueTipología de la trabajadora sexual femenina en la India, dentro del contexto del VIH/SIDA: Revisión sistemática
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Conclusions
  7. References

Objective  To conduct a critical review of the typology of female sex work in India.

Method  Published and unpublished studies (1986–2008) were identified through electronic databases, hand searching and contacting experts.

Results  The review assesses the appropriateness of the existing typologies from a programmatic perspective and identifies their strengths and limitations. It indicates there is conceptual confusion around the typology and that none of the existing typologies are exhaustive, in that none includes all types of sex work documented in India. The typology developed by the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) is the most comprehensive. The typology is based on the primary place of solicitation and categorizes female sex workers (FSWs) as brothel-based, street-based, home-based, lodge-based, dhaba-based and highway-based FSWs. However, this typology has its limitations. First, it does not include all categories of FSWs documented in the literature, such as indirect-primary (primarily solicit clients at their places of work, which are venues where facilitating sex work is their main purpose e.g. massage parlours, bars), indirect-secondary (primarily solicit clients at their places of work, which are in non-sex work related industries e.g. agriculture, construction) and phone-based FSWs (primarily solicit clients through phones). Second, the methodology used to develop the typology proposed by NACO or by any other researchers is not explicit. In addition, the extent to which the typology captures the HIV risk variability between FSWs types is not explored.

Conclusion  There is a need to develop an evidence-based, inclusive typology which takes account of HIV risk for researchers and programmers.

Typologie des professionnelles du sexe en Inde dans le contexte du VIH/SIDA: revue systématique

Objectif:  Effectuer une analyse critique de la typologie des professionnelles du sexe en Inde.

Méthode:  Des études publiées et non publiées (1986-2008) ont été identifiées grâce à des bases de données électroniques, à la recherche manuelle et en contactant des experts.

Résultats:  L’examen évalue la pertinence des typologies existantes à partir d’une perspective programmatique et identifie leurs forces et limites. Il indique qu’il y a une confusion conceptuelle autour de la typologie et qu’aucune des typologies existantes n’est exhaustive, car aucune n’inclus tous les types de prostitution documentés en Inde. La typologie développée par la National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO 2007) est la plus complète. La typologie y est basée sur le lieu principal de sollicitation et catégorise les professionnelles du sexe en tant que: basées dans des bordels, basées sur la rue, à domicile, dans des maisons de passe, basée sur le ‘dhaba’ ou sur l’autoroute. Toutefois, cette typologie a ses limites. Tout d’abord, elle ne comprend pas toutes les catégories de professionnelles du sexe documentées dans la littérature, telles que: les indirectes-primaires (qui sollicitent principalement les clients sur leurs lieux de travail, qui sont des lieux où faciliter la profession du sexe est le principal objectif, e.g. les salons de massage, les bars), les indirectes-secondaires (qui sollicitent principalement les clients sur leurs lieux de travail, qui sont des lieux sans relation avec l’industrie du sexe, e.g. l’agriculture, la construction) et les professionnelles du sexe basées sur le téléphone (qui sollicitent les clients par le biais du téléphone). Ensuite, la méthodologie utilisée pour élaborer la typologie proposée par la NACO ou par d’autres chercheurs n’est pas explicite. En outre, la mesure dans laquelle la typologie capture la variabilité du risque VIH entre professionnelles du sexe n’est pas explorée.

Conclusion:  Il est nécessaire de développer une typologie fondée sur des preuves, qui prend en compte le risque de VIH pour les chercheurs et les programmeurs.

Tipología de la trabajadora sexual femenina en la India, dentro del contexto del VIH/SIDA: Revisión sistemática

Objetivo:  Realizar una revisión crítica de la tipología de la trabajadora sexual femenina en la India.

Método:  Mediante búsquedas en bases de datos electrónicas, búsquedas manuales y contacto con expertos, se identificaron estudios publicados y no publicados entre 1986-2008.

Resultados:  En la revisión se evaluó la idoneidad de las tipologías existentes con una perspectiva programática, y se identificaron puntos fuertes y limitaciones. Se indica que existe una confusión conceptual alrededor de la tipología y que ninguna de las existentes es exhaustiva, en el sentido de que ninguna ha incluido todos los tipos de trabajo sexual documentados en la India. La tipología desarrollada por la Organización Nacional de Control del SIDA (NACO 2007) es la más idónea. Dicha tipología se basa en el principal lugar de prostitución y categoriza a las trabajadoras sexuales como: con sede en un prostíbulo, con sede en la calle, con sede en el hogar, con sede en un motel, con sede en un dhaba y con sede en la autopista. Sin embargo, esta tipología también tiene sus limitaciones. En primer lugar no incluye todas las categorías de trabajadoras sexuales documentadas en la literatura, tales como la primaria-indirecta (contacta principalmente con los clientes en su lugar de trabajo, lugares en los que el objetivo principal es facilitar el trabajo sexual – por ej. centros de masaje, bares etc); secundaria-indirecta (principalmente contacta clientes en sus lugares de trabajo, que no están relacionados con la industria sexual – por ej. agricultura, construcción etc.) y trabajadoras sexuales telefónicas (contacto principal de clientes a través del teléfono). En segundo lugar, la metodología utilizada para desarrollar la tipología propuesta por la NACO o por cualquier otro investigador no es explícita. Finalmente, no se explora la extensión en la que cada tipología captura la variabilidad en el riesgo de infección por VIH entre los diferentes tipos de trabajadoras sexuales.

Conclusión:  Es necesario desarrollar una tipología inclusiva, basada en la evidencia, que tenga en cuenta el riesgo de VIH para el uso investigadores y salubristas.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. SummaryTypologie des professionnelles du sexe en Inde dans le contexte du VIH/SIDA: revue systématiqueTipología de la trabajadora sexual femenina en la India, dentro del contexto del VIH/SIDA: Revisión sistemática
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Conclusions
  7. References

The importance of properly understanding the context of female sex work as well as the drivers and organization of the sex work industry has become increasingly recognized over the last two decades, as the role of sex work in driving and sustaining the HIV epidemic, particularly in countries with concentrated HIV epidemics, has become apparent (Aral & Blanchard 2002; Boily et al. 2002). Having a framework for describing the organization of sex work is important both in terms of sex work research and for HIV/AIDS programming. There have been several recent attempts to document the variety of sex work arrangements and to develop frameworks or typologies of sex work into which these arrangements fit (Harcourt & Donovan 2005; Blanchard & Moses 2007).

It is estimated that around 2.4 million people in India are living with HIV. Most HIV transmission in India is heterosexual (Chandrasekaran et al. 2006), and research has indicated that a substantial proportion of this transmission involves sexual networks that include female sex workers (FSWs) (Nagelkerke et al. 2002). FSWs in India work in a variety of settings and arrangements (Nag 2006).

For programmers working within a particular geographic area, it is important to understand the local context so that interventions are appropriately designed and targeted; specific strategies for reaching FSWs working within different settings will be required. For example, in the case of India, women practicing sex work in brothels are usually easily identifiable, but might be difficult to reach, if the brothel madams do not offer support to the programme. FSWs operating on the street and other public places can be contacted directly, without the need for permission from agents, but might be less easily identifiable. Moreover, a programme needs to take into account that women working in different settings have different levels of vulnerability and risk for contracting sexually transmitted infections including HIV. The extent to which an individual sex worker is able to work autonomously will impact on her ability and freedom to negotiate condom use or regulate the number and type of clients. Moreover, women come from different socio-demographic and economic backgrounds, which will likely influence their willingness and motivation to practice safe sex.

This paper reviews the existing literature on female sex worker typology1 in India, compares the typologies, and identifies their strengths and limitations.

Methods

  1. Top of page
  2. SummaryTypologie des professionnelles du sexe en Inde dans le contexte du VIH/SIDA: revue systématiqueTipología de la trabajadora sexual femenina en la India, dentro del contexto del VIH/SIDA: Revisión sistemática
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Conclusions
  7. References

We conducted a Medline search to identify all papers published since 19862 on sex work in India, using the text words: ‘India’ AND (‘sex work’ OR ‘prostitution’ OR ‘sex worker’ OR ‘prostitute’). Bibliographies of identified articles were hand searched. In addition, we searched for reports, presentations or abstracts that discuss or mention FSW typology. More specifically, we researched the websites of National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) of the Government of India and the main funding organization on HIV prevention and care in India, namely Avahan – India Initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Subsequently, we searched Google using the combination of words ‘India’ AND (‘sex work typology’ OR ‘typology of sex work’ OR ‘typologies of sex work’ OR ‘sex work typologies’ OR ‘sex work type’ OR ‘type of sex work’ OR ‘types of sex work’ OR ‘form of sex work’). In addition to the articles and reports found through these systematic searches, we also reviewed books, reports or papers on FSW found in various libraries in India or from other HIV/AIDS specialists in India.

The articles, reports, presentations and abstracts that contained discussions or mentions of FSW typologies were organized into two groups, separating between documents that had an explicit discussion on the FSW typology (Tables 1 and 2) and those which only mentioned or enumerated certain FSW types, without defining them (Table 3). The first group of documents was further divided: the first sub-group consisting of documents that discussed FSW typologies at a national level (Table 1) and the second consisting of documents that had defined FSW typologies within a city or a state (Table 2). Comparing FSW typologies characterizing the sex work industry in different geographical areas did not seem to be appropriate, as geographic factors appeared to play an important role in the comparison of different sex work industries. Within each geographical area, the documents were listed chronologically, as it is likely that understanding of the industry has increased with time. Moreover, the environment in which sex work takes place is dynamic and will change over time.

Table 1.   Comparative assessment of national level typologies of sex work in India
ReferenceTypologyDefinition of types of sex workCriterionAssessment
Raghuramaiah (1991) quoted by Chattopadhyay and McKaig (2004)Common prostitutesFull-time sex workers working through brothels, roadside hotels, restaurants.By practice- Criterion is specified, but is not directly measurable - Categories are not mutually exclusive - Inclusion of concubines/semi-attached prostitutes might not be appropriate - Programmatically inappropriate, as it does not allow easy identification of FSWs and allocation to mutually exclusive categories
Singing and dancing girlsWork under the pretext of dancing and singing.
Concubines/semi-attached prostitutesHave long-term relationships with men usually from rich families.
Call girlsUrban part-time working adult women who have sex for money with rich men.
Religious prostitutesWomen initiated into sex work at an early age under the pretext of religion.
Cage/brothel prostitutesMostly young girls or children kept under confinement by brothel madams.
Wayside or hitchhiking prostitutesOperate on the roadside or on highways.
Mukhopadhyay (1995)Common girl prostitutesWork mainly in brothel settings.Unspecified- Criterion is not specified - Categories are not mutually exclusive - Typology is not exhaustive (e.g. street-based sex work is excluded) - Programmatically inappropriate, as it does not allow easy identification of all FSWs and allocation to mutually exclusive categories
Singing and dancing girlsPractice sex work secretively, under the pretext of working as singers, dancers, masseuses.
Call girlsSex workers from the middle and upper classes operating through a manager.
Religious prostitutesSex workers such as Devadasis.
Cage girl prostitutesMinor sex workers bonded toa brothel until the advance given against her to her procurers is paid from her earnings from sex work.
NACO (1997)Brothel-based FSWsWork in brothels that range from highly restrictive arrangements to contractualagreements that do not limit the women’s movements. Include lodge-based FSWs.Mode of operation- Criterion is specified, but is not directly measurable - Categories are not mutually exclusive - Programmatically inappropriate, as it does not allow easy identification of FSWs and allocation to mutually exclusive categories
Home-based and part-time FSWsHome-based FSWs range between women working in slums to high-status singers and dancers. Part-time FSWs are primarily engaged in other occupations through which they solicit clients.
Street-based FSWsSolicit clients themselves and work independently. Include womenworking along highways andin dhabas (rest stops).
Call girlsMiddle or upper class women who work clandestinely through agents or independently.
Gupta (2004)Brothel-based workersThe lowest class of FSWs, living in ‘cages’ under the strict control of pimps and madams.Unspecified- Criterion is not specified - Categories are not mutually exclusive - Inclusion of sex in exchange for favours category might not be appropriate - Typology is not exhaustive (e.g. dhaba and highway-based FSWs are excluded) - Programmatically inappropriate, as it does not allow easy identification of FSWs and allocation to mutually exclusive categories
Street workersDo not have a fixed place of operation, pick up clients on the street or other public places.
Housewives and casual sex workersDo not identify themselves as FSWs and do sex work on a part time basis, usually secretly.
Call girls and boysHigh class sex workers contacted through escort services.
Sex in exchange for favoursSpecific to all social groups, from poor to rich.
Nag (2006)DevadasisWomen dedicated as devadasis to gods who engage in sex work.Unspecified- Criterion is not specified - Categories are not mutually exclusive (which the author recognizes) - Typology is not exhaustive (e.g. dhaba and highway-based FSWs are excluded) - Programmatically inappropriate, as it does not allow easy identification of all FSWs and allocation to mutually exclusive categories
Hereditary FSWsWomen from semi-nomadic communities where sex work is a hereditary profession.
Singing/dancing FSWsWomen from communities where dance and music are hereditary professions.
Brothel-based FSWsLive and practice sex work in brothels located in or outside red-light areas.
Floating (flying or street) FSWsSolicit clients in public places and entertain them in lodges (lodge-based sex workers) or public places (street-based FSWs).
Call girlsContact their clients over the phone through agents.
Male sex workersInclude hijras (eunuchs) sex workers and male sex workers.
Child sex workersBoth female and male sex workers of age 18 years or below.
NACO (2007a)Street-based FSWsSolicit clients on the street or in public places such as parks, railway stations, bus stands, markets, cinema halls.Primary place of solicitation- Criterion is specified and programmatically appropriate - Categories are mutually exclusive - The most exhaustive typology of sex work developed in the Indian context at the national level - Programmatically appropriate, as it allows easy identification of FSWs and allocation tomutually exclusive categories - However, it does ignore previously documented types of sex work (e.g. phone-based and bar-based sex work) - Indirect- primary FSWs are mentioned, but not recognized as aseparate category of sex work
Brothel-based FSWsAre contacted by clients in recognized brothels (buildings or residential homes where people from outside the sex trade know that sex workers live and work).
Lodge-based FSWsLive in lodges (small hotels) and their clients are contracted by the lodge owner, manager or employee of the lodge for a commission.
Dhaba-based FSWsSolicit clients in dhabas (roadside resting places for truckers and other long-distance motorists) or roadside country motels.
Home-based FSWsUsually operate from their homes, contacting their clients on the phone, through word of mouth or middlemen.
Highway-based FSWsSolicit clients on the highways, usually among long-distance truck drivers.
Table 2.   Documented typologies of sex work in India by state and/or city
ReferenceTypologyDefinition of types of sex workCriterion
  1. *The document discusses the typology of sex work, but a definition of each type of sex work is not provided because only the abstract or presentation is available.

  2. UNAIDS (2000) also distinguishes between sex workers depending on the fee solicited from clients (Category A = FSWs who charge more than Rs 100 per client, Category B = FSWs who charge between Rs 50 and Rs 100 per client, Category C = FSWs who charge less than Rs 50 per client).

Tamilnadu
 Asthana and Oostvogels (1996)Street workersUndefined.Unspecified
Brothel workersLive in small brothels.
‘Family girls’ or ‘housewives’Live in regular households and often sell sex without the knowledge of their families and neighbours.
Call girlsOperate in good hotels and have high status clients.
‘Ali’Members of the Ali community who practice sex work.
Chennai, Tamilnadu
 Velu et al. (2003)Street-based FSWsUndefined*.Unspecified
Brothel-based FSWsUndefined*.
Discreet FSWsUndefined*.
 Kumar (2003)Street-based FSWsSolicit clients on the street, mostly independently.Unspecified
Brothel-based FSWsSolicit clients in brothels, through brokers.
Apartment or house-based FSWsWork in homes of 2–3 sex workers, along with an older person and disguise their work. Clients take them from the homes to other houses or hotels.
Mobile FSWsMove in cars or vans, solicit clients through brokers using phones and have sex in lodges.
Karnataka
 KSAPS (2004)Home-based FSWsWork in their residences and do not go out to solicit clients.Unspecified, but implied as place of solicitation
Brothel-based FSWsWork in a brothel under a gharwali to whom they pay part of their earnings.
Hotel/lodge-based FSWsLive and solicit clients in a lodge. Clients come by themselves or brought by pimps.
Public places FSWsSolicit clients in public places and entertain them in lodges, homes, brothels or public places.
Dhaba-based FSWsSolicit in dhabas.
 KHPT (2005)Home-based FSWsWork at their places of residence and do not solicit clients outside their houses.Place of solicitation
Brothel-based FSWsWork in a brothel, under a brothel madam or an agent and pay part of their earnings to her/him.
Lodge/dhaba-based FSWsSolicit in the lodge or dhaba with the help of pimps or brokers.
Public places-based FSWsSolicit in public places.
 Ramesh et al. (2006a)Home-based FSWsReceive clients at their homes and do not go out to solicit.Unspecified, but implied as place of solicitation
Brothel-based FSWsReceive clients at a brothel and do not go out to solicit.
Street-based FSWsSolicit clients on the street and other public places.
 Isac et al. (2007)Brothel-based FSWsUndefined*.Place of solicitation
Home-based FSWsUndefined*.
Public places-based FSWsUndefined*.
Maharashtra
 Char et al. (2003)Brothel-based FSWsUndefined*.Unspecified
Non-brothel-based FSWs (including street-based and bar-based FSWs)Undefined*.
Pune, Maharashtra
 Tata (2004)Brothel-based FSWsUndefined*.Unspecified
Street-based FSWsUndefined*.
Andhra Pradesh
 Dandona et al. (2005b,c, 2006), Frontiers Prevention Project (2006),Kumar et al. (2006), Samuels et al. (2006)Street-based FSWsPrimarily solicit clients on streets or public places and have sex at lodges/hotels or a place chosen by the client.Unspecified, but implied as place of solicitation
Home-based FSWsPrimarily solicit clients at home directly or through mediators and have sex at home.
Brothel-based FSWsPrimarily solicit clients through an agent (e.g. pimp, madam) and have sex at the brothel (place of sex work with at least two FSWs working under the control of an agent).
Rajahmundry, East Godavari, Andhra Pradesh
 Blankership et al. (2007a,b),  Dhopeshwarkar (2007)Hanck (2006, 2007), Project Parivartan (2007)West and Irwin (2007)West et al. (2007)Home-based onlyUndefined*.Unspecified
Highway-based onlyUndefined*.
Street-based onlyUndefined*.
Lodge-based onlyUndefined*.
Brothel-based onlyUndefined*.
Agriculture-based onlyUndefined*.
Multiple typesUndefined*.
Kolkata, West Bengal
 Bhattacharya and Senapati (1994)Permanent FSWsFSWs who are permanent residents of the red-light area.Unspecified, but impliedas degree of residencein redlight area
Fixed flying FSWsCome from other areas and rent rooms in the red-light area on a daily basis.
Flying FSWsSolicit clients in other areas and have sex in rooms in the red-light area rented per sex act.
 UNAIDS (2000)ChukrisYoung women bonded to a madam against an advance given to her procurer (e.g. trafficker, family).Unspecified, but implied as level of autonomy vis-à-vis the brothel madam
AdiyasPay half of their income to the brothel madam.
Freelance or ‘flying’ FSWsSolicit clients in the street or various public places and rent rooms on an hourly basis in the red-light areas.
 Cornish (2004)Independent FSWsRent a room in the red light area and decide the timings and conditions of their work.Mode of organization
FSWs working in the malkhin (‘madam’ system)Work for a malkhin (brothel madam) and pay 50% of earnings for accommodation, food and security.
 Evans and Lambert (2008)Women who rent their own rooms and work independently. Unspecified, but implied as level of autonomy vis-à-vis the brothel madam
AdiyasWomen who work for a madam and pay rent and half of their earnings. They solicit clients on their own, in the street.
‘High-class’ adiyasAdiyas who solicit clients through pimps.
ChukrisYoung women bonded to a madam against an advance given to her procurer (e.g. trafficker, family).
Ahmedabad, Gujarat
 Fung et al. (2007)Street CSWsUsually solicit sex on various locations on the street.Unspecified
Brothel-based CSWsWork from lodges or brothels in groups of five or more.
Residential CSWsWork from home, often not full-time.
Call girlsWork using phones or cell phones.
Mobile CSWsUsually migrant CSWs staying in town for 2–3 months.
Kerala
 Jayasree (2004)Street-based FSWsAre homeless, solicit in the street and have sex at the roadside or in lodges.Unspecified
Lodge-based FSWsHave their own homes, solicit in the street or with the help of lodge owners and have sex in lodges.
‘Family girls’Entertain clients in their homes independently or through agents.
Manipur
 Singh et al. (2005)Free CSWsWork independently, decide the price and place of sex. Cannot be easily identified, as they try to keep their sex work secret.Nature of the sex work network
CSWs through agentsWork through agents. Are easily identifiable as sex workers.
Punjab
 NACP (2006)Home-based FSWsUsually work part-time, solicit clients through networks or phone and have sex in their own homes.Unspecified, but implied as place of solicitation
Street-based FSWsUsually work full-time and solicit clients in the street.
Brothel-based FSWsUndefined.
Table 3.   Annotated bibliography of other articles which refer to the typology of sex work in India
ReferenceTypologyCriterion
India
 Venkataramana and Sarada (2001)Brothel-based FSWs, ‘family girls’, call girls, highway-based FSWs, bar girls, ‘recording dance’ FSWsUnspecified
 Hawkes and Santhya (2002)Quotes NACO (1997) typology: brothel-based, home-based and part time, street-based, call girlsUnspecified
South India  
 Chandrasekaran et al. (2006)Street-based, lodge-based, brothel-based, home-based and otherPlace of solicitation
Also mention cell phone-based and bar-based sex workers
Tamilnadu
 Amin (2004)‘Family girls’ or ‘housewives’, street-based, mobile, brothel-based, highway-based FSWsUnspecified
Chennai, Tamilnadu  
 Panchanadeswaran et al. (2008)Brothel-based, street-based FSWsUnspecified
Karnataka
 Blanchard et al. (2005)Home-based, brothel-based, lodge-based, public places, highway-based, dhaba-based FSWsPlace of sex
 Halli et al. (2006)Home-based, brothel-based, lodge-based, roadside-based, dhaba-based FSWsPlace of sex
 Ramesh et al. (2006b)Street-based, lodge-based, home-based, brothel-based, dhaba-based FSWs, otherUnspecified
Maharashtra
 FHI (2001a, 2001b)Brothel-based, non-brothel-based FSWs (including street-based and bar-based FSWs)Unspecified
 Amin (2004)Brothel-based, non-brothel-based FSWsUnspecified
Pune, Maharashtra
 Brahme et al. (2006)FSWs residing in brothels, floating FSWsUnspecified
Andhra Pradesh
 Dandona et al. (2005a)Street-based, home-based, brothel-based FSWsUnspecified
Kolkata, West Bengal
 Gangopadhyay et al. (2005), Kumar (1998), Sarkar et al. (2005)Brothel-based, ‘floating’, independent FSWsUnspecified
 Evans and Lambert (1997)Independent FSWs, FSWs working under the control of brothel madamsUnspecified

In addition to listing the existing FSW typologies in India, we assessed them in terms of their suitability from a programmatic perspective according to the following characteristics:

  • • 
    Clearly specified, directly measurable and programmatically appropriate criterion by which different sex worker categories are distinguished.
  • • 
    Mutually exclusive categories
  • • 
    Generally recognized definitions of FSW types (i.e. recognized by the majority of authors).
  • • 
    Exhaustive typology (should include all FSW types practiced in the respective geographical area).

Programmatically appropriate criteria refer to their ability to inform programmatic activities and aid targeting, identification, location and inclusion of sex workers within programmes. While recognizing that sex work is dynamic and that many sex workers move between categories, regardless of how they are defined, to be programmatically useful a typology needs to be simple, easy to operationalize and comprehensive. Trying to devise a typology that fully encompasses the diversity and totality of each sex worker’s lifestyle/practice, would result in a very cumbersome typology with little practical utility, even if it did more accurately describe the diversity of sex work as it is practiced. As long as a given typology is exhaustive, then having mutually exclusive categories simplifies the typology without sacrificing the potential for complete programme coverage.

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. SummaryTypologie des professionnelles du sexe en Inde dans le contexte du VIH/SIDA: revue systématiqueTipología de la trabajadora sexual femenina en la India, dentro del contexto del VIH/SIDA: Revisión sistemática
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Conclusions
  7. References

The Medline search resulted in 222 articles3. Hand searching references, searching websites and contact with experts identified a further 52 relevant articles, reports, presentations or abstracts. Of these 53 articles, reports, presentations or abstracts had discussed or at least mentioned various FSW types.

Table 1 summarizes the FSW typologies developed for India at a national level and sets out the definitions used by the various authors. Raghuramaiah (1991) (quoted by Chattopadhyay & McKaig 2004) makes the first documented attempt to develop a national FSW typology in India and distinguishes between common prostitutes, singing and dancing girls, concubines/semi-attached prostitutes, call girls, religious prostitutes, cage/brothel prostitutes and wayside or hitchhiking prostitutes. While the criterion is specified (i.e. the practice), it is not clear what the practice refers to (e.g. place of sex, of solicitation, or other) and hence it is a confusing typology from the measurement and programmatic point of view. Moreover, the proposed categories are not mutually exclusive, for example ‘religious prostitutes’ denotes how a woman enters prostitution rather than how she practices and hence can apply to several FSW categories within the typology e.g. could denote ‘common’ or ‘wayside prostitutes’. Similarly, ‘cage/brothel prostitutes’ are a subgroup of ‘common prostitutes’ (see Table 1).

Mukhopadhyay (1995) in a study on child prostitution, proposed a typology that distinguishes between common girl prostitutes, singing and dancing girls, call girls, religious and cage girl prostitutes. The author does not specify the criterion on which he makes the distinction between the categories, which are not mutually exclusive. Moreover, the typology is not exhaustive; it does not mention street-based FSWs, the most widely practiced form of FSW in India (Chandrasekaran et al. 2006).

A more exhaustive FSW typology was proposed by NACO and was based on a descriptive study conducted in 18 cities in India (NACO 1997). The NACO typology distinguishes between brothel-based, home-based and part-time, street-based FSWs, and call girls. While the criterion is specified (i.e. mode of operation), it is not clear whether this refers to the place of sex, of solicitation or another aspect of the sex work operation, which can pose problems for programmers. In addition, categories are not mutually exclusive, as part-time FSWs could be found in any other FSW type proposed.

In a 2004 report on sex work in India, Gupta distinguishes between brothel-based, street workers, housewives and casual workers, call girls and boys, and sex in exchange for favours. He does not specify the criterion by which he makes this distinction and the categories are overlapping, as casual FSWs can operate in a variety of settings. The typology is also not exhaustive.

In one of the few books on sex work in India, Nag (2006) distinguishes between devadasis (women dedicated to gods, who engage in sex work), hereditary FSWs, singing/dancing FSWs, brothel-based FSWs, floating (flying or street) FSWs, call girls, male sex workers and child sex workers. The criterion for devising the typology is not specified and Nag acknowledges that these categories are not mutually exclusive, but decides to keep them conceptually distinctive for ‘heuristic and descriptive purposes’. The typology excludes some types of FSWs, such as dhaba (roadside resting places for truckers and other long-distance motorists) and highway-based FSWs.

In 2007, NACO revised its earlier typology of FSWs (1997) and proposed, as part of the guidelines for targeted interventions under National AIDS Control Program (NACP) III, a typology that distinguishes between street-based, brothel-based, lodge-based, dhaba-based, home-based and highway-based FSWs. This typology clearly states the criterion by which categories are distinguished (i.e. primary place of solicitation), a criterion which is programmatically appropriate from an outreach perspective, but is not explicit about the evidence used to devise it. The categories are mutually exclusive and thus do not pose any problem during programme implementation. However, while it represents the most comprehensive FSW typology, it is not exhaustive in that it omits previously documented FSW types, such as phone-based (Chandrasekaran et al. 2006) and bar-based (FHI 2001a,b; Venkataramana & Sarada 2001; Chandrasekaran et al. 2006). Moreover, while it mentions FSWs who solicit at their places of work (e.g. parlour girls, dancers), it does not recognize them as a separate category of FSWs.

In addition to the national level typologies, various researchers and programmers have developed FSW typologies specific to certain geographic locations in India (Table 2). These are often a sub-set of categories proposed at the national level as not all FSW types are present at any given site. These FSW typologies are organized by state and/or city, for ease of comparison. Of note, there are cases where different FSW typologies are proposed within the same geographical area, as in the case of Chennai (Tamil Nadu), Rajahmundry (Andhra Pradesh) or Kolkata (West Bengal). For a complete list of the proposed FSW typologies in India, we also summarized the documents which mention FSW typologies, without clearly defining the categories (Table 3).

In Table 4, we attempted to reunite all the different types of sex work documented in various places throughout India and thus reconcile the tremendous diversity in the FSW typologies. Nine types of sex works were mentioned overall: brothel-based, home-based, street-based, lodge-based, dhaba-based, highway-based, phone-based, indirect-primary and indirect-secondary. The most commonly used definitions for these categories are outlined. In some cases different terminology is used to describe the same FSW type. Where this happens we list these categories under ‘other terminologies’. In addition, whenever authors have suggested categories which are a subgroup of any of the nine FSW types, we list these categories as ‘subcategories’ of the respective FSW type.

Table 4.   Identified types of sex work in India
Type of sex workReferences
Brothel-based
Definition: FSWs contacted by clients in recognized brothels (buildings or residential homes where people from outside the sex trade know that sex workers live and work).Asthana and Oostvogels (1996), Dandona et al. (2005a,b, 2006), Frontiers Prevention Project (2006), KHPT (2005), KSAPS (2004), Kumar (2003), Kumar et al. (2006), Nag (2006), NACO (1997), NACO (2007a), Ramesh et al. (2006a), Samuels et al. (2006)
Other terminology: common girl prostitutesMukhopadhyay (1995)
Subcategories: apartment or house-based FSWs, age/brothel prostitutes, permanent FSWs, fixed flying FSWs or independent FSWs, chukris, adiyas, high-class adiyasBhattacharya and Senapati (1994), Cornish (2004), Evans and Lambert (2008), Kumar (2003), Mukhopadhyay (1995), Raghuramaiah (1991), UNAIDS (2000).
Home-based
Definition: FSWs who solicit clients from their homes, through middlemen or word of mouth.Dandona et al. (2005a,b, 2006), Frontiers Prevention Project (2006), KHPT (2005), KSAPS (2004), Kumar et al. (2006), NACO (1997), NACO (2007a), NACP (2006), Ramesh et al. (2006a), Samuels et al. (2006)
Other terminology: housewives, ‘family girls’, residential CSWsAsthana and Oostvogels (1996), Fung et al. (2007), Gupta (2004), Jayasree (2004)
Subcategories: none 
Street-based
Definition: FSWs who solicit clients on the street or in public places such as parks, railway stations, bus stands, markets, cinema halls.Dandona et al. (2005a,b, 2006), Frontiers Prevention Project (2006), Fung et al. (2007), Gupta (2004), Kumar (2003), Kumar et al. (2006), Nag (2006), NACO (2007a), NACP (2006), Ramesh et al. (2006a), Samuels et al. (2006)
Other terminology: public places-based FSWsKHPT (2005), KSAPS (2004)
Subcategories: flying or freelance FSWs, wayside prostitutesBhattacharya and Senapati (1994), UNAIDS (2000), Raghuramaiah (1991)
Lodge-based
Definition: FSWs who live in lodges (small hotels) and their clients are contacted by the lodge owner, manager or employee of the lodge for a commissionNACO (2007a)
Other terminology: hotel/lodge-based FSWs KSAPS (2004)
Subcategories: none 
Dhaba-based
Definition: FSWs who solicit clients in dhabas (roadside resting places for truckers and other long-distance motorists) or roadside country motels KSAPS (2004), NACO (2007a)
Other terminology: none 
Subcategories: none 
Highway-based
Definition: FSWs who solicit clients on the highways, usually among long-distance truck drivers.NACO (2007a)
Other terminology: hitchhiking prostitutes Raghuramaiah (1991)
Subcategories: none 
Phone-based
Definition: FSWs who primarily solicit their clients through phones or cell phones, with the help of agents. 
Other terminology: cell phone-based sex work, call girls (defined as sex workers who contact their clients over the phone through agents)Chandrasekaran et al. (2006), Fung et al. (2007), Nag (2006)
Subcategories: mobile FSWs, call girls (defined as high class urban working adult women who practice sex work)Asthana and Oostvogels (1996), Gupta (2004), Kumar (2003), Mukhopadhyay (1995), NACO) (1997), Raghuramaiah (1991)
Indirect-primary
Definition: FSWs who have other sources of income and primarily solicit clients at their places of work, which (although not brothels per se) are venues where facilitating sex work is their main purpose (e.g. massage parlours, bars).NACO (2007a)– mentioned, but not defined
Other terminology: none 
Subcategories: bar-based sex workers, singing and dancing girls Chandrasekaran et al. (2006), FHI (2001a, b), Mukhopadhyay (1995), Nag (2006), Raghuramaiah (1991), Venkataramana and Sarada (2001)
Indirect-secondary
Definition: FSWs who have other sources of income and primarily solicit clients at their places of work, which are in non-sex work related industries (e.g. agriculture, construction). 
Other terminology: none 
Subcategories: agriculture-based FSWsBlankership et al. (2007a,b), Dhopeshwarkar (2007), Hanck (2006, 2007), Project Parivartan (2007), West and Irwin (2007), West et al. (2007)

The first six FSW types are defined using the NACO (2007a) definitions. Brothel-based FSWs are contacted by clients in recognized brothels (buildings or residential homes where people from outside the sex trade know that FSWs live and work). Home-based FSWs solicit clients from their homes, through middlemen or word of mouth. Street-based FSWs solicit clients on the street or in public places such as parks, railway stations, bus stands, markets or cinema halls. Lodge-based FSWs live in lodges (small hotels) and their clients are contacted by the lodge owner, manager or employee of the lodge for a commission. Dhaba-based FSWs solicit clients in dhabas or roadside country motels. Highway-based FSWs solicit clients on the highways, usually among long-distance truck drivers.

In addition to the categories outlined in the NACO typology (2007a), we identified three other emerging FSW types which should be included. While FSWs working in other settings also use phones for their work, phone-based FSWs contact the majority of their clients through phones or cell phones, with or without the help of agents. The phone needs to be included as a ‘place of solicitation’. In addition, there are indirect FSWs (Harcourt & Donovan 2005) i.e. women who have other sources of income and solicit their clients at their place of work, rather than at a brothel, lodge, on the street etc. In some cases, the place of work (although not a brothel per se) is a venue where facilitating sex work is its main purpose (e.g. massage parlours, bars); we refer to women in this category as indirect-primary sex workers. In other cases, women working in non-sex work related industries (e.g. agriculture, construction) solicit at their places of work; we refer to women in this category as indirect-secondary sex workers. These are three important categories of FSWs that are based on the place of solicitation and are not adequately captured by the NACO typology.

We have excluded from Table 4 FSW types mentioned in previous typologies, but which were not categorized on the basis of place of solicitation. Some of these categories will apply to FSW types listed in Table 4 but will likely cross several categories (Table 5).

Table 5.   Annotated bibliography of excluded types of sex work in India
Type of sex workReferenceReason for exclusion
Common prostitutesRaghuramaiah (1991)Includes many types of FSWs
Concubines/semi-attached prostitutesRaghuramaiah (1991)Indicative of a very broad definition of sex work
Sex in exchange for favoursGupta (2004)
Religious prostitutesMukhopadhyay (1995), Raghuramaiah (1991)Such FSWs can be found in many types of sex work solicitation and hence including them as categories would result in a typology with non-mutually exclusive categories
DevadasisNag (2006)
Hereditary FSWsNag (2006)
Singing/dancing FSWsNag (2006)
Part-time FSWsNACO (1997)
Casual sex workersGupta (2004)
Mobile CSWsFung et al. (2007)
Free CSWsSingh et al. (2005)
CSWs through agentsSingh et al. (2005)
Child SWsNag (2006)
Male SWsNag (2006)The paper focuses on female sex work
‘Ali’Asthana and Oostvogels (1996)
Call boysGupta (2004)

Conclusions

  1. Top of page
  2. SummaryTypologie des professionnelles du sexe en Inde dans le contexte du VIH/SIDA: revue systématiqueTipología de la trabajadora sexual femenina en la India, dentro del contexto del VIH/SIDA: Revisión sistemática
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Conclusions
  7. References

In this paper, we presented the first comprehensive review of FSW typology in India and found a multitude of conflicting and overlapping typologies have been developed either at a national, state or city level. Few typologies were explicit about the criterion or evidence on which they were based and none had explored differences in HIV risk between categories. The most comprehensive and user friendly national typology is the one developed by NACO (2007a) which is programmatically appropriate from an outreach perspective. However, it is not totally exhaustive in that not all categories of FSWs are included. Sex work typology forms the basis of HIV prevention programming and this confusion of terminology will likely lead to confusion in FSW HIV prevention research and programming.

Our review clearly shows that there is conceptual confusion around the FSW typology in India, which is particularly apparent when comparing typologies developed at local level by researchers and programmers with those developed nationally. There is no unitary approach; researchers and programmers from different states use different categorizations of FSWs. Even when the same categories are used, the definitions of the categories vary. For example, while NACO (2007a) defines lodge-based FSWs as women who live in lodges and solicit their clients through the lodge owner, manager or other employees, Nag (2006) defines them as women who solicit clients in public places and entertain them in lodges. Confusingly, the same categories maybe referred to by different names in different locations; for example, FSWs categorized as street-based FSWs at a national level are called floating or ‘flying’ FSWs in West Bengal. In addition, the criteria used to determine typologies may be different, despite using apparently same categorization and terminology. To exemplify, NACO (2007a) distinguishes between FSWs based on place of solicitation, while in the context of Karnataka, Halli et al. (2006) and Blanchard et al. (2005) distinguish FSWs based on place of sex. Moreover, it seems that at times there is a discrepancy between the conceptualization made by researchers working in the same state. For example, in Andhra Pradesh there seem to be two separate teams of researchers who use quite different FSW typologies. While we realize that there is considerable geographic variability in the practice and organization of the sex work industry in India, having common definitions would allow a better description and understanding of the diversity of sex work across the country.

The conceptual confusions around the FSW typology in India are in stark contrast to the importance of the typology for STI/HIV/AIDS programme and research. FSW typologies or at least distinctions between various types of FSW are an integral part of most reports and academic papers on FSW. According to NACO (2007a) guidelines, programmers should conduct mapping to collect information on the FSW type practiced in each hotspot prior to programme implementation. Most surveys conducted among FSWs take into account the FSW typology as part of the sampling strategy. FSW typology is an important independent variable in most analyses on sex work, as related to STI/HIV risk or other issues.

The NACO (2007a) typology reconciles most of the conceptual confusions of the FSW typology literature and distinguishes based on the primary place of solicitation between brothel-based, home-based, street-based, lodge-based, dhaba-based and highway-based FSWs. However, this review identifies additional categories of FSW that are not included in the NACO (2007a) typology and that represent emerging FSW types and rural sex work. Unlike all other FSW types who primarily solicit clients in locations that can be physically identified, phone-based FSWs cannot be identified by their physical location of solicitation. Nonetheless, the phone is their ‘place of solicitation’. These phone-based FSWs are not captured within the other categories but need to be acknowledged as a FSW type, because this ‘place of sex work’ is becoming increasingly important numerically (Chandrasekaran et al. 2006). The increasing use of cell phones for the purpose of sex work may result in an ‘invisible’ sex work industry parallel to the ‘visible’ sex work industry and it is important that it is specifically sought out by programmers for HIV prevention, treatment and care services. Indirect-primary FSWs who solicit and practice at their place of work such as beauty parlours or bars are becoming popular in Indian large cities, such as Mumbai (FHI 2001a,b), likely due to a combination of factors, such as changing client preference and the knowledge about the high rates of HIV infection among sex workers in traditional settings. These women are often less openly working as FSWs, allowing men to ‘believe’ that these are casual partners to whom they offer some form of gratuity rather than ‘prostitutes’, which may also seem more socially acceptable. Indirect-secondary FSWs working mostly in rural areas are also increasingly recognized. Although they solicit at work, their work is not primarily for that purpose e.g. it may include agricultural or construction work. These women are likely to constitute a relatively hidden population of FSWs and it is important that STI/HIV/AIDS programmers are aware of them and seek them out specifically, given the high HIV prevalence registered in rural areas in some districts (NACO 2007b). Of note, while these three FSWs categories are represented in the sex work industry, there is very little data available about them, partly because they are hidden and partly because the FSW programs have not acknowledged their existence and developed outreach strategies to cover them.

Previous studies have used various criteria to distinguish between FSW types: practice (Raghuramaiah 1991), mode of operation (NACO 1997), mode of organization (Cornish 2004), nature of the sex work network (Singh et al. 2005), place of sex (Blanchard et al. 2005; Halli et al. 2006), and primary place of solicitation (KHPT 2005; Isac et al. 2007;NACO 2007a). The first four criteria cannot be directly measured, which can pose difficulties in terms of attributing individual cases of FSWs to a certain category. Both the place of sex and the place of solicitation are directly measurable. However, as outlined in the NACO guidelines (2007a), the place of solicitation seems to be more appropriate programmatically, as contacting FSWs at the place of sex can create problems for outreach. While individual FSWs may operate in multiple settings, classifying women by their primary place of solicitation (as long as this includes ALL the places of solicitation) allows us to both enumerate FSWs and explore factors or risks associated with their primary place of solicitation. The extent to which distinguishing by place of solicitation captures the variation in the risk levels experienced by FSWs is not known. It is salutatory to note that we did not identify one publication which linked typology, however defined, to actual risk of HIV or STIs.

Little is known about the methodology used to develop the FSWs typologies, as none of the publications identified were explicit about this aspect. It appears that the typologies have been developed based on observations of the FSW industry and on the FSWs’ reports of how the industry is organized, but this process has not been systematically documented. Future studies could address this by developing FSWs typologies using explicit methods that take into account evidence relating to the relative importance of the different categories, both in terms of their relative frequency and in terms of the risk they pose. Developing FSW typologies by taking into account the variability in HIV risk between FSW categories would result in evidence-based typologies accounting for local specificities of the sex work industry.

Researchers and programmers should be encouraged to use the same definitions and categorizations of FSW types across India. This would allow for comparisons between studies and intervention strategies. In proposing a comprehensive and programmatically appropriate typology for India, we are not suggesting that programmers from different parts of the country should not undertake situation analyses of sex work in their locale before implementing their programmes. We are, however, advocating that local frameworks should be nested within the national framework to help ensure that the programmatic and research data that are generated are comparable across the country.

Footnotes
  • 1

    Male sex work in India has its own typology, very different from the female sex work typology.

  • 2

    The first case of HIV in India was reported in 1986 (Simoes et al. 1987).

  • 3

    Some of these articles were not available online and could not be found in any of the libraries in India and London we consulted. Nevertheless, as much as it can be inferred from their titles, we think that they would not have any mentions on the FSW typology in India.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. SummaryTypologie des professionnelles du sexe en Inde dans le contexte du VIH/SIDA: revue systématiqueTipología de la trabajadora sexual femenina en la India, dentro del contexto del VIH/SIDA: Revisión sistemática
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Conclusions
  7. References
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