Sex workers plead for more sympathetic media coverage
February 9, 2018

Do sex workers not deserve dignity? Do the terms ‘rape’ and ‘violence’ not apply to them? These were some of the questions that came up at a media sensitisation workshop organised recently at New Delhi by Taaras, a coalition of women in sex work, and Swasti, a health resource centre for marginalised communities. The workshop brought together several community leaders of women in sex work for an interaction with media persons. Bharat Dogra has the story

Women engaged in sex work often faced rape and violence while pursuing their profession. However, there was an unspoken denial of such issues, and the media and police paid very little attention to it, one of the leaders of the community said at a media sensitisation workshop organised recently in New Delhi by Taaras, a coalition of women in sex work, and Swasti, a health resource centre for marginalised communities.

The possibility of violence increased when they had to move away from their designated places of work to service clients, the women reported. At times, they were told there would be only one client, but when they reached the place, they would find a whole group waiting for them. If they objected, they were subjected to violence and force. There were instances when the women had been stripped and left in public places. If the media covered such cases with the same sensitivity as they did in cases where other women were involved, such crimes against sex workers might reduce, speakers at the workshop felt.

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The organisers also brought to the notice of participants that very often, the media published names and photographs of sex workers. This made them easily identifiable and caused them and their families hardship and anguish. As one sex worker explained, many of them had to hide their profession from friends and relatives and sometimes even from the immediate family, and media coverage exposed them.

They related how even their daughters were threatened with rape and violence because of the stigma attached to their trade. One sex worker brought a copy of a newspaper which had published such information to drive home her point. It would help if the media highlighted the injustice suffered by their children, they said.

As the women pointed out, there was usually an economic compulsion or some tragedy which had driven them to take up sex work. Even in that respect they faced difficulties, as a significant part of their earnings were often taken away by others. These aspects of their lives wre never highlighted by the media.

The media seldom highlighted the positive aspects of their lives either, the community leaders pointed out. Giving examples, they said some of them had helped to rescue girls who were being trafficked or coerced to join the profession. Others helped set up old age homes for sex workers. Such initiatives were not covered and, instead, they were portrayed in a negative light, which only strengthened the social stigma they faced, they complained.

One sex worker pointed out that while trafficking certainly needed to be opposed, the fact remained that many women entered the profession because they choose to, and they had a right to dignity. They were being consistently denied this dignity. A sympathetic media could help them and their families in negating social stigma, she stressed.

On the plus side, community leaders said organisations of sex workers were coming up in various parts of India and they were now in a better position to complain against some glaring injustices meted out to them. And thanks to outfits like Taaras and Swasti, they were now able to communicate more effectively about their problems and issues.
Taaras was set up in 2016 while Swasti functions as a ‘secretariat’ for Taaras.

October – December 2017