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Sex workers in Tamil Nadu face increasing police brutality: study

Around 200 sex workers gathered in Chennai on August 17, 2004, where they unanimously agreed that the nexus between the police, traffickers, pimps and brothel owners must be broken

A study conducted by the South India AIDS Action Programme (SIAAP), a Chennai-based non-governmental organisation (NGO), reveals that nearly 70% of sex workers in the city were beaten with lathis and logs of wood and kicked by policemen. Some even reported broken limbs and mutilation of sex organs.

The study, which began in October 2000-2001, was carried out among 172 sex workers from 13 districts in Tamil Nadu. More than 80% of the women interviewed said they had been arrested on the assumption that they were soliciting in a public place. Another 15% said they had been picked up for questioning police high-handedness. About 12% said they had been forced to vacate their homes because of police harassment.

"We are beaten up and dragged to courts and dumped in jails even when we are not engaged in prostitution. I was roughed up and my clothes were torn by a policeman when I was distributing condoms among women sex workers," says Kokila from Thiruvannamalai who was taken to court and forced to pay a fine of Rs 2,400. Later, she was taken to a lodge and raped by a policeman. The next morning she was re-arrested and forced to pay another fine.

The study reveals that 70% of sex workers are from rural areas; over 50% of them had been abused within the family when they were young. Their trauma continued when they landed up in urban brothels and became victims of further violence at the hands of pimps and policemen.

To discuss the atrocities meted out against them by the police, around 200 sex workers gathered in Chennai on August 17, 2004. They were of the unanimous view that the nexus between the police, traffickers, pimps and brothel owners must be broken.

The SIAAP has helped Tamil Nadu's sex workers set up the Forum Against Violence on Sex Workers, which has taken the first-of-its-kind initiative to bring to book offenders in 39 documented cases of violence against sex workers. A detailed memorandum of the cases, with the names and designations of errant police personnel and the victims' medical records, has been forwarded to the home department.

"Tamil Nadu should follow the example set by Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh which recognise sex workers as being victims of sexual exploitation," says Shyamala Natraj, programme director of the SIAAP.

Source: Deccan Herald, August 21, 2004
The Asian Age, August 20, 2004