Investigating sex trafficking and HIV vulnerability among female sex workers along the Mexico-US border

Funded by Berkeley Research Program on Migration and Health (Programa de Investigación en Migracion y Salud); Co-PIs: Dr. Steffanie Strathdee & Dr. Ietza Bojorquez (El Colegio de la Frontera Norte); 
Research Coordinator: Dr. Shira Goldenberg

Three women
Image source: Shira Goldenberg

The purpose of this study is to begin an investigation of sex trafficking and HIV vulnerability among female sex workers (FSWs) along the Mexico-U.S. border from the perspective of formerly trafficked female sex workers (FSWs) and their service providers. Sex trafficking is a human rights violation with enormous health and social consequences, including HIV. Despite very high HIV prevalence among trafficking survivors, there is a paucity of published studies that assess sex trafficking within the context of HIV in the Americas. To build an appropriate response, NGOs, government, and public health require information about the nature of sex trafficking in local contexts, and need to understand and attend to the perspectives of survivors.

Aims of this qualitative study are to:

  1. Describe sex trafficking trajectories among previously trafficked female sex workers (FSWs)
  2. Analyze how these experiences may be linked to HIV vulnerability
  3. Develop recommendations for binational HIV and trafficking prevention, as well as related support for trafficked FSWs

We will conduct 10 weeks of modified ethnographic fieldwork in Tijuana and San Diego, including in-depth interviews with FSWs in Tijuana who report prior trafficking experiences (n=30) and service providers in Tijuana and San Diego (n=10). Fieldwork will provide information on sex trafficking trajectories, elucidating pathways through which susceptibility to HIV can occur. In partnership with local service providers, we will develop action-oriented strategies for intersectoral HIV prevention and support. This study will contribute to a foundation of knowledge to advocate for strategies to reduce the related epidemics of sex trafficking and HIV, and will provide preliminary data necessary to inform a larger, mixed-methods study of sex trafficking and HIV.

Final Report (Spanish) (English)