The Texas Public Health Association (TPHA) honored a doctoral student from UNT Health Science Center‘s School of Public Health for her research work on the sex trade among homeless women. The student Shlesma Chhetri received the Outstanding Student Oral Presentation Award, which was presented at the association’s annual education conference.
The awarded presentation was entitled “Sex Trade: Survival Strategy Among Homeless Women” and was delivered by the PhD student from the Department of Behavioral and Community Health, in collaboration with associate professor Emily Spence-Almaguer, MSW, PhD, and UNTHSC medical student Gabrianna Saks, MPH.
The work on sex trade and the reality of homeless women was based on data from the 2013 study for the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition, in which Spence-Almaguer collaborated alongside fellow students. The study included over 150 interviews conducted in the locations where women were living on the streets and in emergency shelters of Forth Worth, according to a press release from UNT.
Extending her research, Chhetri studied the complexity of the additional challenges experienced by homeless women, the topic of sex trade, as well as the impact of these challenges in women’s physical and mental health. Fort Worth has a rather specific situation since homelessness has increased in the last years, in contrast with the rest of Texas and the country.
The study revealed that 40% of the women had already been approached for sex trade and 26% of them engaged in it. As for the reasons of accepting such propositions, one in each six women reported having engaged in sex trade in exchange for a place to stay, while 13% said they had traded sex for food. In addition, the research also demonstrated that women who had trade sex were at a significantly higher probability of suffering some type of victimization.
Homeless women who had traded sex were equally more likely to suffer medical and reproductive health complications as well as to consume more alcohol and drugs. Another concern is the higher prevalence of mental health illnesses in women who engaged in trade sex practices. The student believes that her work may help prompt a response from the community to reduce violence against Fort Worth homeless women.