Heterogeneous and vulnerable: the health risks facing transnational female sex workers

Sociol Health Illn. 2011 Jan;33(1):33-49. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2010.01265.x. Epub 2010 Oct 13.


Representations of transnational sex workers have been dominated by the trafficked victim discourse that often overlooks the heterogeneity of this population and variations in the health risks that different sub-groups face. This paper addresses this deficiency by examining differences in the socio-economic backgrounds, working conditions, HIV/AIDS knowledge, and vulnerability to health risks of female sex workers from Russia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Mainland China currently working in the Chinese city of Macau. It also examines the correlates of three health risks: client-perpetrated violence, non-condom use and condom failure. The results show major differences in the socio-economic profiles, working conditions and exposure to health risks of the four groups of workers studied. They also suggest that age, ethnicity, education, economic pressure, AIDS and STI knowledge, and workplace condom-use norm are significant correlates of the three health risks examined. The findings shed light on the importance of locating the social and cultural contexts that constrain the response of different groups of transnational sex workers to health risks, and the need to tailor intervention measures to meet the specific conditions of individual groups. They also point out the urgency of tackling the interpersonal and structural obstacles to safe sex practices among marginalised populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • China / epidemiology
  • Condoms / statistics & numerical data*
  • Ethnicity / psychology*
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections / ethnology
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control
  • HIV Infections / transmission
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Internationality*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Organizations
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk-Taking
  • Russia / ethnology
  • Sex Work / ethnology*
  • Sex Work / psychology
  • Sex Work / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / epidemiology
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / ethnology*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / prevention & control
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / transmission
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Thailand / ethnology
  • Vietnam / ethnology