Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Violence against female sex workers in Karnataka state, south India: impact on health, and reductions in violence following an intervention program

Tara SH Beattie1*, Parinita Bhattacharjee2, BM Ramesh23, Vandana Gurnani2, John Anthony4, Shajy Isac2, HL Mohan2, Aparajita Ramakrishnan5, Tisha Wheeler5, Janet Bradley6, James F Blanchard37 and Stephen Moses37

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London, WC1E 7HT, UK

2 Karnataka Health Promotion Trust, IT/BT Park, 5th Floor, #1-4/, Rajajinagar Industrial Area, Behind KSSIDC Administrative Office, Rajajinagar, Bangalore 560 044, India

3 Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Manitoba, 750 Bannatyne Avenue, Winnipeg, R3E 0W3, Canada

4 India Health Action Trust, # 4/13-1, Pisces Building, Crescent Road, High Grounds, Bangalore 560001, India

5 India AIDS Initiative (Avahan), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Sanskrit Bhavan, A-10 Qutb Institutional Area, Aruna Asaf Ali Marg, New Delhi 110067, India

6 Unité de recherche en santé des populations, Centre hospitalier affilié universitaire de Québec, Hôpital du Saint-Sacrement, Québec, Canada

7 Department of Medical Microbiology, University of Manitoba, 745 Bannatyne Avenue, Winnipeg, R3E 0J9, Canada

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2010, 10:476  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-476

Published: 11 August 2010



Violence against female sex workers (FSWs) can impede HIV prevention efforts and contravenes their human rights. We developed a multi-layered violence intervention targeting policy makers, secondary stakeholders (police, lawyers, media), and primary stakeholders (FSWs), as part of wider HIV prevention programming involving >60,000 FSWs in Karnataka state. This study examined if violence against FSWs is associated with reduced condom use and increased STI/HIV risk, and if addressing violence against FSWs within a large-scale HIV prevention program can reduce levels of violence against them.


FSWs were randomly selected to participate in polling booth surveys (PBS 2006-2008; short behavioural questionnaires administered anonymously) and integrated behavioural-biological assessments (IBBAs 2005-2009; administered face-to-face).


3,852 FSWs participated in the IBBAs and 7,638 FSWs participated in the PBS. Overall, 11.0% of FSWs in the IBBAs and 26.4% of FSWs in the PBS reported being beaten or raped in the past year. FSWs who reported violence in the past year were significantly less likely to report condom use with clients (zero unprotected sex acts in previous month, 55.4% vs. 75.5%, adjusted odds ratio (AOR) 0.4, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.3 to 0.5, p < 0.001); to have accessed the HIV intervention program (ever contacted by peer educator, 84.9% vs. 89.6%, AOR 0.7, 95% CI 0.4 to 1.0, p = 0.04); or to have ever visited the project sexual health clinic (59.0% vs. 68.1%, AOR 0.7, 95% CI 0.6 to 1.0, p = 0.02); and were significantly more likely to be infected with gonorrhea (5.0% vs. 2.6%, AOR 1.9, 95% CI 1.1 to 3.3, p = 0.02). By the follow-up surveys, significant reductions were seen in the proportions of FSWs reporting violence compared with baseline (IBBA 13.0% vs. 9.0%, AOR 0.7, 95% CI 0.5 to 0.9 p = 0.01; PBS 27.3% vs. 18.9%, crude OR 0.5, 95% CI 0.4 to 0.5, p < 0.001).


This program demonstrates that a structural approach to addressing violence can be effectively delivered at scale. Addressing violence against FSWs is important for the success of HIV prevention programs, and for protecting their basic human rights.