XVIII International AIDS Conference


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Are we in charge of our bodies?: Perceptions of control and management of HIV-risk among female sex workers in Tijuana, Mexico

S.M. Choudhury

Hispanic Health Council, Center for Eliminating Health Disparities among Latinos, Hartford, United States

Issues: The social interactions female sex workers (FSWs) have with men, and the ways in which these interactions shape their self-image and affect HIV-risk, are complex. Research that examines these relationships should consider the full gamut of relationships FSWs have with men, including family, intimate personal partners, bosses/managers, and clients. This research aims to shed light on the meanings that emerge form the FSWs' experiences and the implications for HIV risk and prevention in their lives.
Description: This paper reports results from a constructivist grounded theory qualitative study that focused on womanhood, identity formation, social roles, and HIV susceptibility among establishment-based FSWs in Tijuana. Data collection involved in-depth personal interviews with FSWs currently working in Tijuana. Data collection and analysis was guided by the principles of constructivist grounded theory.
Lessons learned: This study finds that the way in which FSWs' relationships with men impact self-image and HIV-risk is rooted in the concept of control. FSWs report varying degrees of control throughout their lives in relationships with family, intimate personal partners, bosses/managers, and clients. Perceived and actual lack of control in these relationships results in feelings of being manipulated and abused. Conversely, having or gaining control increases women's sense of agency and empowers them to take action to protect their health. This allows FSWs to begin to derail concepts that they are either to blame for the spread of HIV or that they are helpless victims.
Next steps: Results from this research project will be used to inform the design of new mixed-methods research with the same community, as well as qualitative research projects with other border-town communities of FSWs. Future studies aim to open the option of comparative research between various communities of FSWs and inform the development of new programs that are grounded in the data that emerges.

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