Women Trading Sex in a U.S.-Mexico Border City: A Qualitative Study of the Barriers and Facilitators to Finding Community and Voice
1.1. Collective Identity Facilitators and Barriers
1.2. Collective Efficacy and Collective Agency Facilitators and Barriers
2.1. Ethical Review Board Approvals
2.2. Study Sample and Data Collection Procedures
2.3. Data Analysis
3.1. Collective Identity
3.1.1. Potential Facilitators for Collective Identity
“We would tell each other, and we would support each other… we would advise each other on difficult situations we go through or what we are going through…”[Age 33, fichera/charges for drink client buys]
“Tell our stories, gather, and tell our problems…all the problems we go through… help each other… to see what we could solve or come to some agreement and be able to be better”.[Age 26, call girl/escort]
“I have several acquaintances that really need to talk, more than anything that there be advice, in case something happened, we know what to do… besides the diseases, if they get hurt physically, whom to go to… some advice or something”[Age 35, trading sex on the street]
“How to defend themselves… To talk to someone...for example, a situation happened to me, but I didn’t know where to go or who to get close to… but yes, the reality of knowing where to go and who to go with that can help them”.[Age 21, did not disclose work location]
“... I think we should make a group. Have conversations about diseases and all of that. Why? Because the girls sometimes don’t go get the card and they might be transmitting [STIs] to other people… The ones that are sick…because they don’t get the card, they are not afraid… maybe an orientation [is needed][Age 21, did not disclose work location]
“Well [to learn] how to take care of ourselves, from diseases and all of that. They can take information… about infections that can be transmitted, not just AIDS. Other diseases… that are also severe…or not that severe…how you can prevent them and if you can prevent them… Have female doctors… that are specialized… [teach them]”[Age 22, call girl/escort]
“Like more than anything, they need to be able to stand-up, their self-esteem. And to say that they are worth as a person and like a human being… that they don’t have to be there being lessened or allowing someone to treat them bad… because to have them there is in some way to be locked-up… it’s like a prison”.[Age 27, trading sex on the street]
3.1.2. Potential Barriers for Collective Identity
“That one as a woman matters, that regardless of what you work in you always, always have values… that it’s not our fault for having fallen here. That many of us would want to have a different life… yet your values, your principals, your morals…your female values are by the ground… [Being treated poorly by customers also] keeps lowering your morals until they hit the ground. So, if there was something or someone, or a group of people that tell you, ’you are valuable’…”[Age 21, did not disclose work location]
“… A man can be an addict and a saying [referring to a cultural belief] ‘because he works… poor him…to stay awake, that’s why he does it’, … the woman can’t because it looks bad. Or… [if] he is a man, they don’t look as bad as the woman drugging herself…”[Age 21, call girl/escort]
“… when [drug] is injected they see you even worse…the discrimination is too much…”.[Age 35, trading sex on the street and injecting drugs]
“I don’t know of… any organization that is… an organization for us. Simply because… they discriminate… give us ugly looks... People take advantage of us, belittle us… that’s what they do every day with those of us that are addicts. Or they close the door on you, or they yell at you, or they treat you badly”.[Age 48, trading sex on the street and injecting drugs]
“They look repulsive [those that inject drugs…I don’t have a relationship [with them] … because their drug is different than mine…”.[Age 27, trades sex, inhales drugs]
3.2. Collective Efficacy
3.2.1. Potential Facilitators for Collective Efficacy
“To respect our rights as human beings… that there would be a little more support, normally we have problems with the ones that make government changes… they want to move us [remove them from the alley]. They [also] want to raise the fee [health card to trade sex]…”.[Age 29, trading sex on the street]
“We said, why don’t they put human rights office here? Because they greatly violate our rights…even from the same clients… police rob them…but if we get together yes…”.[Age 53, brothel worker]
“Look recently… they started to tell us, the police and the ones from regulations, that we couldn’t stand on the sidewalk…a lot of us got together… we went to the Palacio Municipal [Government Building] … because it was going to affect us”.[Age 46, street worker]
3.2.2. Potential Barriers for Collective Efficacy
“the majority [have pimps that] … watch over them…ask them for a fee… [if] ‘a lot of time has gone by’…they will hit you...sometimes one doesn’t want to work here [by choice] … some of us do it out of necessity, other out of duty, and other by force. They wouldn’t necessarily come in… whatever topic related to the job… it would be good for you to let them feel confident and it’s the start for them to talk. Then, logically the topic about the job is going to come up. But it would be good… to have them see that they have values… find someone like you to trust, because you guys have knowledge to say… ‘well they are abusing you, they are keeping you under force in a place… look I can guide you, I can take you where they will help you and everything is going to be fine.’ That would be like a start…”.[Age 21, did not disclose work location]
3.3. Collective Agency
3.3.1. Potential Facilitators for Collective Agency
“About AIDS… sometimes one gets depressed and one goes down and you say, ‘ah, well I’m going to die of something,’ It shouldn’t be like that because there are those that depend on us and we are just thinking about ourselves… I remember my children and it’s the only thing I have, it’s the only thing that motivates me…”.[Age 27, selling sex on the street]
“I would unwind [with] so much talking… we would even talk about our lives… like how we’ve been and how we want to move forward. And well… more than anything… they would support us… help us relax… It would be good that they [women selling sex] had a talk to motivate them, to be different individuals…they are lonely, they feel lonely… and they don’t know what to do and that is why they go as far… sometimes with drugs, and sometimes drinking… that is because they feel like that. It’s because… when you are down… you arrive to an extreme… you get depressed”.[Age 39, selling sex on the street]
“We are discriminated…they [society] lower your morale and when I talk to you guys [interviewers] … you [help] raise our self-esteem”.[Age 35, selling sex on the street]
3.3.2. Potential Barriers for Collective Agency
“The other time… he hit my face [client]… it was something very ugly… I don’t want to remember… we did have [sexual] intercourse… besides hitting me, I felt very humiliated… I felt that my values as a woman… were in the ground”.[Age 27, selling sex on the street]
Q: Do you have an idea what topics would be important or interesting so that it doesn’t seem like a waste of time [talking about meetings]?
A: About being careful with people that want to attack you, abuse you… [I’ve seen some of that] have some partner, some person next to them that forces them to work in this, … they are being forced, sexually exploited by someone… [The women look] beat up or worried or they aren’t comfortable. And if I talk to them they give me a comment but [they will say] ‘I can’t say anything else or talk to you or have enough time,’ I feel impotent for not being able to help someone. I would want to but if she doesn’t want to… what can I do?”.[Age 29, selling sex on the street]
“I’d give them [policemen] more education, more ethics… courses so that they learn [how] to treat women, people… that they aren’t so corrupt, so dishonest. That they don’t abuse me... But there is abuse now, everywhere. Even in the conectas [location where they sell drugs] … men will abuse women. [the police] would stop us all the time because you could tell that we used drugs… [the police would say] ‘we are going to take you to the judge and we are going to tell her that you had drugs.’ [I said] ‘you can’t do that.’ [they said] it’s your word against mine and I’m a cop.’ [they said] … they wanted money…”.[Age 22, call girl/escort]
“I had a federal highway police… he basically raped me. Why? Because it’s one thing to give consent to something and selling something… but someone that forces you to do things that you don’t want to… no one helped me”.[Age 31, dance companion]
“Women who trade sex are there because of certain circumstances, many are single moms, we have a lot of responsibilities… others have private lives and they don’t want anyone to find out… society is very cruel and they criticize you”.[Age 31, dance companion]
“Many people pass by in their cars… or walking… they stare at you, talking about us and laugh. … Sometimes we go to the doctor or… they’ll say: ‘do you get drugged’ or one will say where one works… and if you tell them [where you work] … they will start to treat you badly”.[Age 51, trading sex on the street]
Conflicts of Interest
Appendix A. Interview Guide
- How do you prefer to identify yourself when trading sex? How do other people’s feelings about sex trade and how they refer to those who trade sex affect you? For example, discrimination and stigma? What changes in government policy, improved human rights, or improved access to healthcare do you want to see?
- If there were a problem that affected all or most women trading sex, would they come together to address it? How about substance using women trading sex? What kinds of problems? Where and how would they or do they meet, and with whom, and specifically for substance using women?
- Are you aware of sex trade collectives in Tijuana? Have women in the sex trade mobilized or met together to address the problems they face? How about substance using women trading sex? What have they accomplished? What do you think community mobilization offers? How about for substance using women in the sex trade?
- Are you aware of and have you participated in any group, workshop, training/class, activity, rally, or other meeting where other women in the sex trade were present? How about substance using women in the sex trade? Please describe the activities and conditions around your participation. If you did not participate, would you be interested in participating? What stops you or other women in the sex trade from participating? How about for substance using women in the sex trade? What has helped or would help you participate?
- Can you describe the isolation you may currently feel, and how you may want to reduce it?
- What are the health risks women in the sex trade face that might be helped by meeting with others?
- Policy environment: workplace practices/policies
- Physical environment: border migration issues
- Social environment: interaction with peers, managers, pimps, sexual partners, clients
- What do you think substance using women trading sex need in terms of advocacy? What concerns or issues do substance using women trading sex have?
- Do you think drugs or alcohol affect a women’s ability to participate in mobilization or to meet with other women trading sex about the problems or issues they face? Could community mobilization help motivate substance users to recover from drug use?
- What unique strategies are required for substance using women trading sex to mobilize?
- Are you aware of any sex work organization that has included substance using women? Does the type of drug or alcohol use affect one’s ability to participate?
- Has mobilizing/meeting with other women trading sex helped lower the risk of HIV/STIs among them? Among substance using women trading sex?
- What are the necessary conditions in order for women trading sex to mobilize around their health and rights? For substance using women trading sex to mobilize? What next steps do you recommend to enable women trading sex and substance using women trading sex to mobilize?
- Why and how have women trading sex in Tijuana mobilized for improved human rights and access to healthcare, changes in government policy, opportunities to make more income (e.g., via group loans), and reduced isolation and abuse/violence? What is the potential and what are the barriers to mobilize around these issues for substance using women trading sex?
- What problems do you face from the police? [Probes: arrest, threat of arrest, put in lock-up/jail, physical and sexual violence or verbal abuse].
- Is violence/abuse from police a common problem for you or threat to you? Can you tell me about an incident when a police officer has beaten you (e.g., hit, slapped, pushed, kicked, punched, choked, or burned you)? Or threatened to hurt you? Or made you fear for your safety in some other way? What did you do? Do you seek other help when faced with police violence/abuse? What strategies do you use in general to avoid police violence? Are there ways you think working with a group of others could help you in preventing this violence? i.e., Can women join together to support each other, e.g., to watch children when arrested, provide bail money etc. Other ways?
- Did you ever help a peer when she faced a police problem?
- Is violence/abuse from clients a common problem for you or threat to you?
- Can you tell me about an incident that is most memorable when a client forced you to have sex when you did not want to? Or forced you to engage sexually with him in a way that you did not want to? What happened?
- Are there places where you feel most at risk for violence from clients? (probe: club, street, hotel, places where you are alone with the client; places where there is a lot of substance use occurring or certain types of drug use) Are there certain types of clients that are more risky in terms of being violent? (probe: drug use, clients from Mexico versus elsewhere)?
- Do you seek others’ help (peers) when faced with client violence/abuse? Are there strategies you use in general to try to avoid client violence? If you were part of a larger group of peers whose goal was to support each other, are there ways you could work together to help protect each other from violence perpetrated by clients?
- What about violence from others? Have you experienced violence from others? (male partners, club managers, others who work in the club, men on the street, neighbors, etc.) Can you tell me about an incident when someone has beaten you (e.g., hit, slapped, pushed, kicked, punched, choked, or burned you)? Or threatened to hurt you? Or made you fear for your safety in some other way? What did you do? Do you seek help from peers when faced with violence from rowdies/others? What strategies do you use in general to avoid violence? How did the violence affect you? Have you ever had an injury because of a violent incident? (describe)
- Are there services available for women who face violence? [Probe for violence related to sex trade, violence from husbands or partners, or violence from police]? What could help address issues of violence?
- What types of priorities would you want to see addressed through a collective of women? [probe: police, violence, motherhood challenges, debt, social support, issues with relationships with male partners or clients, housing challenges, etc.]
- Is there a group of women in the sex trade who you know that you trust and who support or help each other?
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|Collective Identity Facilitators||Definitions|
|Safe and Confidential Space for Finding Community||Renting or delineating territories on streets or other spaces used|
|Agency Support/Services||Having support from an agency that can also provide services|
|Social Support for Self-Esteem/Efficacy||Although these are distinct concepts, we group them together because they can be difficult to disentangle. Here, we want to capture examples of women’s sense of self-worth (or lack thereof) and/or women’s belief in their own ability to succeed or achieve goals.|
|Collective Identity Barriers||Definitions|
|Cultural Expectations of Gender Roles in Mexico||Covers how straying from traditional roles can make it difficult to mobilize and access resources|
|Substance Use Stigma||Reports of women’s isolation from other women in the sex trade or from services such that it serves as a barrier to mobilization.|
|Collective Efficacy Facilitators||Definitions|
|Knowledge of Human Rights||Covers basic knowledge, or lack of knowledge, of broader human rights or women’s rights. May be a barrier to or motivation for mobilization|
|When Economic Means are Threatened||Includes any type of support from peers, agencies, or social services to help with economic means.|
|Collective Efficacy Barriers||Definitions|
|Human Trafficking||Defined as concern about victims of trafficking as they experienced powerlessness and loss of control, which made it more difficult for them to access resources to get help.|
|Collective Agency Facilitators||Definitions|
|Staying Healthy||Accessing resources or mobilizing with others to protect health|
|Feeling Heard||Having support from peers and agencies where they feel listened to|
|Collective Agency Barriers||Definitions|
|Physical/verbal/psychological violence from clients, the police, and intimate partners [pimp]||Describes instances where women have/have not had support from other women in the sex trade to deal with problem clients or violence. Social support could take many forms: emotional, financial, etc.|
|Societal Stigma||Reports of women’s isolation from services and their personal relationships such that it serves as a barrier to mobilization.|
© 2020 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Gonzalez, C.; Brouwer, K.C.; Reed, E.; Nicholls, M.J.; Kim, J.; Gonzalez-Zuniga, P.E.; Gaeta-Rivera, A.; Urada, L.A. Women Trading Sex in a U.S.-Mexico Border City: A Qualitative Study of the Barriers and Facilitators to Finding Community and Voice. Sexes 2020, 1, 1-18. https://doi.org/10.3390/sexes1010001
Gonzalez C, Brouwer KC, Reed E, Nicholls MJ, Kim J, Gonzalez-Zuniga PE, Gaeta-Rivera A, Urada LA. Women Trading Sex in a U.S.-Mexico Border City: A Qualitative Study of the Barriers and Facilitators to Finding Community and Voice. Sexes. 2020; 1(1):1-18. https://doi.org/10.3390/sexes1010001Chicago/Turabian Style
Gonzalez, Claudia, Kimberly C. Brouwer, Elizabeth Reed, Melanie J. Nicholls, Jessica Kim, Patricia E. Gonzalez-Zuniga, Andrés Gaeta-Rivera, and Lianne A. Urada. 2020. "Women Trading Sex in a U.S.-Mexico Border City: A Qualitative Study of the Barriers and Facilitators to Finding Community and Voice" Sexes 1, no. 1: 1-18. https://doi.org/10.3390/sexes1010001