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We conducted participant observations and in-depth interviews with 33 FSW and six venue bosses to describe the experiences of FSW and management structures in high and low-priced sex work venues in Liuzhou, China.
In low-priced venues, FSW had more autonomy and stronger relationships with their ethnic minority peers. Mid and high-priced venues had more formal management structures. Ethnic minority FSW working in higher priced venues experienced less support and kinship with their peers.
Our findings provide guidance for tailoring public health programs that meet the needs of ethnic minority women working in different types of sex work venues. The HIV epidemic in China has been concentrated in certain high risk groups. Sex workers, injection drug users, persons with sexually transmitted infections STI , and men who have sex with men MSM are identified as high risk populations for HIV prevention and control in China 1. More research is required to understand the intersection of ethnic minority status with sex work and access to risk reduction counseling and services in China.
Sex work is illegal in China. FSW thus comprise a large, hidden group. Some sources estimate there are at least 4. Social and economic changes in China have increased migration and urbanization, which contribute to women entering commercial sex work 6. Escaping poverty is one of the primary motivators for women to engage in selling sex 7 , 8. Sex work in China is organized according to multiple socio-economic tiers, ranging from low to high At opposite ends of the spectrum are street-based sex workers and high end personal escorts; in the middle are sex workers employed in a variety of types of service and entertainment venues Within this heterogeneous group, venues can be subdivided into low, middle, and high-priced venues based on the monetary value placed on the sale of sex in the establishment Given concerns about illegality, venues for sex work are often disguised in the form of a club, massage parlor, bathhouse, or karaoke lounge.
These differences are also related to the kinds of information and services available. Women account for up to half of all of urban migrants in China. Female migrants are at a disadvantage when it comes to finding employment, and are more likely to be relegated to jobs in the service and retail industries 6. Female migrants who are also ethnic minorities are at an added disadvantage in finding urban employment because of their partial fluency in Mandarin, relative lack of education, and unfamiliarity with city life 2 , When few other jobs are available, migrant women may turn to selling sex to make a living There is evidence that ethnic minority women constitute a substantial number of women selling sex in some regions of China 3.