Objectives: The social context within which women engaged in sex work at a popular truck stop in South Africa are placed at risk of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection and the factors that influence their ability to reduce their risk were assessed.
Methods: Using qualitative and quantitative techniques, an elected sex worker from within the group collected all data.
Results: Given the various pressing needs for basic survival, the risk of HIV infection is viewed as one more burden imposed on these women by their lack of social, legal, and economic power. Violence, or the threat thereof, plays an important role in their disempowerment. In the few instances in which sex workers were able to insist on condom use, it resulted in a decrease in earnings, loss of clients, and physical abuse.
Conclusions: Recommendations to reduce the sex workers' risk for HIV infection include negotiation and communication skills to enable them to persuade their clients to use condoms; development of strategies through which they can maximally use their group strength to facilitate unified action; and accessibility of protective methods they can use and control, such as intravaginal microbicides.