In early 2016, I met a group of female sex workers (FSWs) in Bagalkot district in Karnataka, India. The campaign statement for their Orange Day event calling for an end to violence against women in December 2015 was “Violence is not love”. I was curious about what this meant because the women had framed it in the context of intimate relationships with their male partners.
Just a year earlier, the results of a formative study by researchers from the Karnataka Health Promotion Trust among 620 female sex workers (FSWs) in the same district had revealed that 51% of them faced emotional, physical or sexual abuse from their intimate partners. Almost half the FSWs reported humiliation, threat of harm or intimidation, 33% were either kicked, choked, burnt on purpose, forced to engage in humiliating sex acts or threatened with a weapon, and 7% were raped by their partners in the six months prior to the survey.
Tara, one of the FSWs I met, shared the story of a long raised scar on her right arm. On a Friday evening in August 2014, her partner came home to find her with a client. She defended herself when he accused her of cheating: “What will happen if I continue sex work? You don’t earn and give me money. How should I earn my livelihood? I need to eat. What do you expect me to do?” Seething with rage, he kicked and pinned her to the ground with his legs on her chest. The pocketknife meant to slit her neck instead slashed her arm raised in an act of self-protection. Writes Priya Pillai, Independent consultant and former lead - research uptake and partnerships at Strive. Read more of about this article published in the Guardian news here.