The researchers found that among the 287 girls and women, 38 percent tested positive for HIV. Among those with complete documentation of trafficking experiences (225 girls and women), the median age at time of trafficking was 17 years, with 33 girls (14.7 percent) trafficked prior to age 15 years. Compared to those trafficked at 18 years or older, girls trafficked prior to age 15 years had an increased risk for HIV, with 60.6 percent infected among this youngest age group. Risk was also associated with being trafficked specifically to Mumbai, India, and with longer durations in brothels.
HIV infection has been seen as perhaps the most critical health consequence of sex trafficking, but sex-trafficked girls and women are rarely studied leaving the prevalence of HIV and other health issues among this highly vulnerable population little understood, said Silverman. This study sheds new light on infection rates among a sex-trafficked population and exposes both the tragic existence of the youngest victims and the dire health consequences of this crime.
Silverman and his team suggest several likely explanations for the observed high risk for HIV infection among the youngest trafficked girls. Previous research on male brothel clients in India suggests that these men prefer very young girls, often presented as virgins, due to fear of HIV and other infection, as well as to the widespread myth that sex with a virgin will cure such illnesses. As a result of client demand and of the relatively high profits earned from prostituting these very young girls, brothel owners take steps to keep them in captivity for longer periods of time. The HSPH team found
Contact: Christina Roache
Harvard School of Public Health