Karnataka Sex Workers Union Protest Unethical Research

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Author: 
Asia Pacific Regional Correspondent

Karnataka Sex Workers Union held protests and spoke out about recent attempts to conduct invasive unethical research on sex workers, without proper community involvement. In a press release issued on 18 March, 2017 entitled “Sex Workers don’t need sympathy! Sex workers need workers rights!!” the Union spoke about the various ways the research report in question “violates research methodologies, research ethics and several national and international protocols/guidelines.”

It is believed over 17,000 sex workers were subjected to an invasive 169 question survey, which placed them at risk while offering little hope of improving conditions for any in the community. The results from this highly criticised survey were then used to write up a report entitled, “Laingika Daurjanyakke Olagaada Samudaaya Mahileyara Sthithigathi Adhyayana” (“Status Report of Women Who Have Encountered Sexual Violence”).

Bhagya, one of the many sex workers who protested, posed questions about the survey which went unanswered. Questions included: “Why does the department want to know the nature of my clientele? Whether they are college students or not? How many clients I entertain in a day and how much I earn? How are these questions in our interest?”

Sex workers expressed concern when the project began in 2015. Since then, sex workers’ concern have grown due to the way the survey was conducted as well as the content of the subsequent published report, which is yet to be made public.

Sex workers’ have documented their concerns with the questionnaire and the way it was administered to them, lodging a counter-report “A Critique of the Study Undertaken by the Government, through its Appointed Committee on Sex Workers.” This was submitted to Ramachandra on December 24 2016

In their counter report, sex workers criticised assumptions made by the original report including, “that all those engaging in sex work are victims of sexual violence.”

The sex worker union explained this demonstrated a “flawed and distorted understanding of the discourse around sex work” and seriously violates, undermines and takes away agency from sex workers.

Sex workers also criticised the questions asked by the committee because they believed that information which could inform government policies was not gathered. No questions assessed their access to safe drinking water, food, housing, land, sanitation, electricity, health, child care and education, said sex workers. They allege that the data collected is unusable for drawing any inferences or conclusions for the purpose of formulating policies and programmes for the welfare of the sex workers.

Nisha Gulur, treasurer of the union said, “we gave our phone numbers, addresses and personal details like HIV status in the questionnaire. We did not participate in the survey voluntarily. Some of us were spoken to over the phone. They asked questions like whether we introduced others to sex work. What is the guarantee that this information won’t be used against us? What if the police barge into our houses and arrest us?”

The president of National Network of Sex Workers (NNSW) and the Treasurer of Karnataka Sex Workers Union Nisha Gulur explained that the Jayamala committee submitted a report on sex worker policy issues without proper consultation with sex workers. This was despite sex workers making it clear this was necessary. Niche Gulur said that the report was publicised in a few newspapers recommending that usage of the term ‘sex workers’ is to be banned. It was suggested that sex workers should instead be referred to as “oppressed”.

“Who are they to label sex workers as sexually exploited women?” asked Gulur in a Press Release. “Decriminalisation of sex work is the key expectation of most of the sex workers but it finds no mention in the report. We will not allow non-sex workers and anti-sex workers to decide policies or make decisions about us. We will ensure that we are in the forefront of any process of policy formations,” said Gulur.

The organising secretary of Karnataka Sex Workers Union, Dharani demanded the following: 

  • Make the Jayamala Committee Report Public and start a dialogue with sex worker-led organisations
  • Decrimanalise sex work by repealing Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act
  • Constitute a Sex Workers Welfare Board in the lines of Construction Workers Welfare Board

Dharani also asserted that the fight will continue against the spreading of prejudice and misconceptions about sex workers. Slogans shouted by the protesters included: “My Body – My Right,” “Sex work – My Choice, We are not sexually exploited women,” “We are Sex Workers, Sex Work is not Trafficking,” “Stop Moral Policing, Stop Sexual Policing,” “Repeal ITPA, Constitute Sex Workers Welfare Board,” “We don’t want Sympathy – We want Rights, Decriminalise Sexwork,” “Down with Jayamala Committee for excluding Sex Workers Organizations,” “Make Jayamala Committee Report Public,” and “Down with Jayamala Committee for collecting survey data with false promises of free housing and loans.”