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Bulk of sex workers shut out from Samurdhi for refusal of sexual favours

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Seventy seven percent of Sri Lankan sex workers have never applied for the government Samurdhi benefit, primarily due to a combination of lack of necessary documentation and social discrimination against them, a report ‘Status of Sex Workers in Sri Lanka 20233 – 2023’ said.

This study was carried out by several groups including the Social Scientists Association (SSA).The report said that among the small number who did apply and were denied Samurdhi, 56 percent stated it was because they did not perform sexual favours. This practice of sexual bribery is normalised by different state officials, including Police to Samurdhi officers, the report has said.

“25 percent were denied Samurdhi as they did not have access to a permanent address while 15 percent said they did not have other requisite documentation. Three percent were denied it as they did not have a marriage certificate either because they chose not to get married or had not registered their marriage,” the report said.

It said that 66 percent of the workers who have visited the government Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI)

clinics reported that they faced some form of verbal abuse. 66 percent reported that such verbal abuse included comments of their ‘character’, i.e. implying that they are immoral, sinful and ‘bad’ women.

“35 percent received suggestions from STI clinic staff that they engage in alternative professions based on the assumption that this profession is inherently bad and/or sinful. 83 percent of the workers said that they have never received contraceptives from the public health midwife and 76 percent of the workers said that a public health midwife has never visited their home. While 80% of the female workers had visited the government STI clinic, only 35 percent of cis-gendered women workers have visited the ‘Suwa Nari – Women’s wellness clinic’ at the government hospital that focuses on overall wellbeing. 91 percent said that they always use condoms, and of the small number who said they have not worn condoms at work, 70 percent said it was because clients refused to wear a condom,” the report read.

The study also found that out of 88 percent who attended school 18 percent have completed their Ordinary Level and only 6 percent have completed Advanced Level. 14 percent have dropped out of school in the 5th grade or below.

The study also found that 60 percent of the workers are sole earning members of their family and 73 percent are the highest earning or primary earning member of their family. 69 percent of workers showed that they have three or more dependents in the family. 72 percent said sex work is a job that they do which feeds their family when they were asked how they feel about their job.

“It is in this context that 45 percent of workers said their work is never safe while 23 percent say it is mostly unsafe. 66 percent stated that clients are responsible for them feeling unsafe, followed by 20 percent each citing hotel owners and law enforcement as responsible for them feeling unsafe,” the report said. 283 sex workers took part in the survey.

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