Background: Female sex workers (FSWs) in Cameroon, and West Africa generally, suffer a disproportionate burden of HIV. Although violence against FSWs has been documented extensively in other parts of the world, data on violence from West African countries are lacking. The aim of this study was to qualitatively document violence and harm reduction strategies from the perspective of FSWs in Cameroon as well as to understand how experiences of violence may increase FSWs' HIV risk.
Methods: FSWs from 7 major cities in Cameroon (Douala, Yaounde, Bamenda, Bertoua, Nagoundere, Kribi, and Bafoussam) were purposively recruited. Data from 31 in-depth interviews and 7 focus groups (n = 70; with some overlapping participants from in-depth interviews) conducted with these FSWs in 6 of these 7 cities (excluding Kribi) were analyzed using a grounded theory approach.
Results: Transcripts revealed 3 primary themes related to violence: (1) sources and types of violence, including sexual, physical, and financial violence perpetrated by clients and police, (2) harm reduction strategies, including screening clients and safe work locations, receipt of payment before sexual act, and formation of an informal security network, and (3) recommendations on structural changes to reduce violence that emphasized sex work decriminalization and increased police accountability.
Conclusions: As in other parts of the world, violence against FSWs is pervasive in Cameroon. Interventions targeting violence and HIV must address the forms of violence cited locally by FSWs and can build on FSWs' existing strengths and harm reduction strategies. Structural changes are needed to ensure access to justice for this population.