Date of Award

January 2012

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)


School of Public Health

First Advisor

Kaveh Khoshnood

Second Advisor

Jeannette Ickovics



Sex trafficking is a significant public health and human rights concern in India. This paper aims to (1) replicate questions about predisposing factors and trafficking mechanisms previously asked of women and girls released from trafficking to a sample of women actively involved in commercial sex work; and (2) go beyond existing research by determining first-hand information on pre-trafficking employment histories and subjective perceptions of trafficking and health risks.

Interviews with 57 trafficked female sex workers in Kolkata (Calcutta), India. Most women were born in India. Bangladesh and Nepal were also reported nations-of-origin. Illiteracy was prevalent in the sample (67.9%, n=38). Rural region-of-origin, not previously studied, was reported by most women in the sample. The majority of women reported family violence (60.4%) and being married prior to being trafficked (79.0%). The majority of trafficked women (73.2%, n=42) entered sex work before the age of 18. The most common recruitment strategy was coercion with the promise of employment (63.2%, n=36). Almost all women in this study related at least one failure or limitation of the patriarchal system and hegemonic norms of womanhood as factors leading to their entry into sex work. These failures took the form of family violence, trafficking by husbands, death of a husband/father, or the failure of male family to provide economic support.

Employment prior to trafficking was reported by 52.6% (n=30) of study participants. An additional 48.1% of women were looking for employment prior to trafficking. Women perceived few alternatives to sex work. Employment alternatives, including domestic service, factory work and casual labor, were seen to have many limitations - long hours, minimal compensation and fear of harassment.

Most women reported having limited knowledge of trafficking at the time they were trafficked (84.2%). They identified numerous perceived health risks associated with trafficking, but only two individuals identified HIV.

In order to improve knowledge of trafficking and potential health consequences, greater education efforts are needed to inform at-risk women and girls. Efforts to improve employment opportunities beyond the realm of sex work are also needed.


This is an Open Access Thesis.

Open Access

This Article is Open Access