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 Table of Contents  
ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 36  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 310-316

The influence of social environment on children of a commercial sex worker


1 Department of Psychology, SDM College (Autonomous), Dakshina Kannada District, India
2 Department of Psychology, Christ (Deemed To Be University), Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Date of Submission15-Jan-2020
Date of Acceptance22-May-2020
Date of Web Publication31-Dec-2020

Correspondence Address:
Ms. V Deepa
Department of Psychology, SDM College (Autonomous), Ujire, Dakshina Kannada District, Karnataka
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/ijsp.ijsp_8_20

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  Abstract 


The case study aims to understand the influence of social environment on the course of life of children of a commercial sex worker. The participants of the study were two sons of a commercial sex worker who grew up in different environments. The older sibling who is 19 years of age (case 1) lives with his mother, whereas the younger sibling who is 17 years of age (case 2) lives in a hostel distant from everyday influence of a brothel. The study adopts multiple case study design and in-depth interviews were conducted to gather data. The obtained data were subjected to thematic analysis. Each case was analyzed individually, and then cross comparison of the themes derived was carried out. The themes derived on analyzing case 1 were social categorization, mercenary activity, substance aficionado, complacency in life, and compliance with life while the themes derived on analyzing case 2 were disgust toward commercial sex work, feeling of precariousness, antipathy toward home environment, irrational thoughts and anticipation of a better future. The only overlapping issue that emerged in both cases was being protective about their mother. It was concluded that environmental variance contributes to the difference in experience and perception of the situation and society.

Keywords: Children of commercial sex worker, environmental variance, siblings


How to cite this article:
Deepa V, Manjula M Y. The influence of social environment on children of a commercial sex worker. Indian J Soc Psychiatry 2020;36:310-6

How to cite this URL:
Deepa V, Manjula M Y. The influence of social environment on children of a commercial sex worker. Indian J Soc Psychiatry [serial online] 2020 [cited 2021 Jan 16];36:310-6. Available from: https://www.indjsp.org/text.asp?2020/36/4/310/305956




  Introduction Top


Every individual is unique and possesses the characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Individual differences represent psychological characteristics that differentiate one person from another and thus aid to define each person's individuality. Among the most important kinds of individual differences are intelligence, personality traits, and values.[1] This variation among individuals could be a result of either the genes one carries or the environment one has been exposed to. Although individuals have numerous endowments, skills, and abilities gained by inheritance which may draw an upper limit upon individuals' growth and development in various dimensions, contribute to sex, intelligence, and other specific abilities, it is essential to consider that environment also plays a key role in individual differences. Individual differences come about on the basis of stimulation received by the individual from their internal and external environment. This may include family set up, peer group, economic status and education, culture, and gender differences.

Irrespective of nature or nurture dominance, every child has some talent which must be nurtured to make the child feel accomplished. However, the children of commercial sex workers are deprived of a nourishing environment which seldom caters to their basic needs. They are socially excluded; lack resources, present an inability to participate and experience a low quality of life. According to the British Medical Journal, social exclusion may contribute to children's poor educational performance and achievements, unmanageable behavior, drug misuse, unemployment, teenage pregnancy, homelessness, crime, and suicide.[2]

Sex work is often illegal in most countries and the clandestine nature makes identifying these children very difficult. This, in turns, increases the child's vulnerability and marginalization.[3] Socioeconomic factors also contribute to marginalization such as “illiteracy, low level of income, cultural factors like: labeling (naming derogating), social norm (mainstream norm), value and beliefs.”[4] The Encyclopedia of Children's Health describes the factors that affect development in marginalized children as, “…social influences such as peer pressure, parental support, cultural and religious background, socioeconomic status, and interpersonal relationships help to shape personality and influence the psychological makeup.”[5] A longitudinal study found that various environmental factors such as poverty, mental illness, minority status, positive maternal interactions with the child, stressful life events, minimal maternal education will have detrimental effects on the personality of the child.[6] Children of commercial sex workers are underprivileged, susceptible and side-lined in the society due to the profession of their parent. Children of commercial sex workers are sufferers of their situations from birth, without the opportunity to be free of their background, and are deprived of an environment that encourages healthy physical and psychological development. The children suffer from nutritional deficiencies, minimal health care, nonavailability of basic needs, and social handicaps.[7] The children of commercial sex workers who are raised in the brothel suffer the most as they take up jobs like assisting other female sexual workers or assisting to operate an illegal liquor shop etc., As a part of being involved in malpractices and of poor relationship in the family their psychological state is affected. They developed hate and neglected their mothers. These children also grieve the lack of educational opportunities, economic support and fails to understand the definition of social roles and affectional relationships.[8]

Unlike the prevailing conditions in the brothels, children need experience of love, acceptance, positive guidance, and protection from a caring adult. The acceptance of peers and positive influences such as teachers, mentors, and role models along with social support, neighborhood stability and access to safe schools and adequate health care will denote appropriate physical and psychological development of children. Such attempts are usually carried out by local bodies working with rehabilitating children of commercial sex workers.

When a child is made distant from the influences of the brothel at a very young age, it allows them to think clearly, develop socially and learn new skills signaling empowerment. Although the effects of living in a red light area may not be reversible because of the imprints created in memory, the acceptance of peers and positive influences such as teachers, mentors and role models along with social support, neighborhood stability and access to safe schools and adequate health care will enhance appropriate physical and psychological development of children.

Rationale for the study: At the global context, most individuals have a say about sex trade, and not many talk about the plight of the children born and raised in the brothels. Most women bear children with a desire to form a sustainable emotional bond, but do not find a way to keep children away from influences of sex-work. The brothels have a controled environment and are not conducive for the holistic development of an individual. Relevant and related studies were extracted using google scholar and NList using the key words such as children of prostitutes, children of sex workers, marginalized teens/adolescents, children living in the brothel/red-light area, personality of children of sex workers/prostitutes, negatively stimulating environment, development of marginalized youth, importance of healthy social environment and so on. Available research studies indicate that most marginalized children experience abuse and violence. However, there is a lack of literature to understand the lives of children of commercial sex workers. In an attempt to fill the gap in the existing literature, the present study attempts to understand the lived experiences of the children of commercial sex workers. Numerous studies reiterate the influence of surrounding social environment on physical and psychological well-being in early developmental stages, the case studies presented in this paper were selected. The case studies were selected to understand by comparison the course of life of two sons of a commercial sex worker who grew up in different environments.


  Methods Top


Objective

To understand by comparison the course of life of two sons of a commercial sex worker who grew up in different environments.

Design

Multiple case–study design was adopted to gather data.

Procedure

The participants were met individually and written consent to participate in the interview was obtained. Indepth interviews were conducted with the participants. Saturation of idea and data saturation indicated termination of qualitative probe. Case studies obtained were in the form of long narratives and pseudonyms have been used to conceal the identity of the participants. The interview began with the inquiry of demographic details and continued toward understanding the background and other related issues as expressed by the participants. The researcher ensured to maintain the high levels of sensitivity and was cautious to prevent intentional harm and avoid potential harm.

Analysis

Thematic analysis was employed to analyze the obtained data [Table 1].
Table 1: Comparison of themes derived from case 1 and case 2

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Background of the case

Case 1

Kailash is a 19-year-old boy whose mother is a commercial sex worker. He lived in a family with parents, mother and his biological father until he was 2 years of age when his mother separated from his father and entered into commercial sex work. Kailash has lived with his mother ever since then and remembers the identity of his biological father who is no longer alive. His father died in the year 2010. Kailash is a drop out from school at standard 3 and has worked in a garage and presently works in a gym as an instructor to make a living. His mother did not permit the NGO to take Kailash with them when he was a child. Kailash's mother refused to allow her son to go to the hostel as she feared the feeling of being lonely. He has a reputation of being a goon with a problem of substance abuse and anger management issues as reported by him.

Behavioral observation

Kailash is unkempt and has an aggressive language with frequent use of obscene words. He has poor eye contact and raised his voice frequently to make his point

Case 2

Kiran, younger brother of Kailash is a 17-year-old boy, who has never lived with his family together with both mother and father. When his mother separated from his father, she was pregnant for this child and delivered him in the brothel. Although the identity of his father is not anonymous, he never visited him and his father died 7 years ago. Kiran is studying in the 11th standard and lives in the hostel. He was picked up as a 4-year-old young boy by the NGO and was raised in a hostel which provided for his basic needs and education. He is an average academic performer and has an ambition of joining the armed forces for a career. Kiran used to visit his mother regularly every month until a few years ago. He reports that he no longer feels comfortable to visit his mother in the brothel and prefers spending vacation in the hostel and training himself to remain fit.

Behavioral observation

Kiran is a neatly dressed boy. He did not use obscene words throughout the interview. He also has poor eye contact and spoke in a very soft voice.


  Discussion Top


Thematic analysis was employed to elicit the themes from the indepth interviews conducted with the siblings who served as the participants.

On analysis of case 1, the following themes emerged [Figure 1] – social categorization, mercenary activity, substance aficionado, complacency in life, and compliance with life.
Figure 1: Frequency of occurrence of themes in case 1

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  Social categorization Top


Social categorization is the most frequently occurring theme from the interview. The participant perceives his social environment through social categorization. Social identity theory states that the ingroup will discriminate against the outgroup to enhance their self-image. “Once you live life here, the outer world is not safe. It becomes dangerous… Pimps are usually people from your world, not ours…. “I don't belong to the outer world” are verbatim reports of the participant expressing social categorization. He differentiates between children from the brothel who are educated and dropouts, customers who visit the brothel and families of commercial sex workers. The participant has adopted the identity of the group that he has categorized himself as belonging to. “I have a gang of friends, we do everything together, and all of us are from the area.” Furthermore, the participant displays a sense of conflict in social identity in the interview. He believes that he belongs to both the in-group and the out-group, “What have I done that people normally don't do? I am just like everyone else.” Group membership attached to the person is a real, true and vital part of the person's identity.

”I used to work in a garage. However, that garage owner asked me to leave because he thought that I might be a pimp when he found out where I lived. I worked in that garage for 3 years by not letting him know who I was.” This indicates that the participant has formed an identity for himself in relation to the place of his residence and his mother's occupation. Research studies report that children from the red-light area fear exclusion, discrimination, and abuse if they reveal their true identity to individuals outside the brothel and hence form a social category of people and isolate themselves from people they do not identify with.

Mercenary activity

The theme refers to an act primarily concerned with making money and is the second most commonly occurring theme. The participant expresses his dire need to make money to meet his daily requirements. He reports that, “I have no regrets doing anything if it can give me money.” The participant has always been in poverty and has struggled to make ends meet is indicated by the narrative “there used to be a time when I had no food to eat, now, I have sufficient money.” “I have different ways to get money to buy stuff, I earn a little, I work with a local leader, and he gives me some money. That is usually sufficient……. When I'm short of money, I'll go and meet the local leader, do some party work and get money………. every time I find out that she (mother) has made some money, I go and take it off from her.” The participant has testified that he has vandalized property, beaten people, created chaos in the brothel and has caused a breach of peace for money. Research evidence shows that children of commercial sex workers might be at a potential risk to grow up with anti-social behavioral tendencies due to psychological disturbance of being unattended all the time which increases the risk of poor self-esteem and poor impulse control.

Substance aficionado

The participant expresses his affinity toward substance use and is the next most frequently occurring theme. The participant recalls, “I got introduced to cigarettes as a child when I used to go and buy it for men who came home. Later, I tried it when I was very young. I had a gang of friends; we did everything together. We started with cigarettes, and then alcohol, ganja, powder, injection.” The participant is aware of his habit of using substance and reports that he had once thought of abstaining himself from using it but later justified the use of substance by saying, “I don't have a problem” and “I had once thought that I should give up on all substance because it can cause death fast, later I felt, why should I? I might as well do what I like and live life the way I want. All of us will have to die. Will anyone live forever because they have clean habits? If yes, I will give up. If not, I'll just live life my way.” The participant described his skill set as “All I know is to repair bikes, work in a gym, smoke, drink, do drugs and sleep” indicating that substance has a prominent place in his life. One of the hazardous influences of living in the brothel is substance use. It makes children of commercial sex workers vulnerable to alcoholism and substance use. The red-light area presents to children with a series of challenges such as criminal activities, drug trafficking and use, gambling, gang violence and also creates a dangerous environment for women and children. As a result, these districts are not safe for a child's growth and development.[9]

Complacency in life

Complacency in life is the fourth theme derived from the interview. The participant articulated his satisfaction with life and reckons that he need not do much about anything. He reports, “I never studied. It is okay with me, if you don't study, you have no particular way to live. You can do anything for a livelihood. But if you study, you will have arrogance to do small work, you will want to live in a particular way, you want to wear clothes a certain way.” “I can even now leave and go from here, but I don't want to do that,” indicates that the participant is comfortable with his routine in life and seeks no change. Complacency can be a result of not developing a strong sense of self-efficacy. Children of commercial sex workers lack the mastery through experiences, such as observing others who are succeeding, having positive and affirming comments from others, understanding one's own emotions and feelings.

Compliance with life

Compliance with life is the last most frequently occurring theme. “My mother is a sex worker…. But when she tells me to call a man with whom she has a settlement as father, I do. My real father has died. That man extorts my mother, but she still wants him and not me…. No one who goes out from here has succeeded. They will eventually have to come back here…….” are verbatim of the participant indicating his acceptance towards his life and his mother's profession.

The oppressive structure in the brothel forces children to normalise, and not just accept but approve of the incidents and life situation.

On analysis of case 2, the following themes emerged [Figure 2] – disgust towards commercial sex work, feeling of precariousness, antipathy toward home environment, irrational thoughts and anticipation of a better future.
Figure 2: Frequency of occurrence of themes in case 2

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Disgust towards commercial sex work

The participant has expressed his disgust towards commercial sex work and is one of the most commonly occurring themes in the interview. The participant expresses detestation towards the customers and sex-workers who refuse to leave the profession if given an opportunity.

The participant perceives commercial sex work as the root cause for several underlying problems such as poverty, neglect of children by parents, decline in sexual health, and fading family system. He reports, “There is a lot of money in the world but my mother is still paid peanuts because she is in this business, my mother is talented and can cook very well. If she went out to work as a cook, she would be paid more than this…… It is only because of that man, who is my mother's current settlement, she ignores us. That man has changed her mind and she can die for him. All men who come here are cheaters; they come from outside, spoil the life of their family and ours. As soon as they realize, they are bored, they walk away…… I know so many families where parents separate because the man of the house visits us, I specifically remember, one lady who poisoned her children and attempted suicide because her husband was my mother's customer. The lady survived but the children died.”

Commercial sex work is seen as an exploitative industry preying upon the weak and vulnerable; there is a probable victim overlooked in the flesh trade: the children. These children have been sufferers of their circumstances from birth. Trapped in an industry affecting their health, their lives, and their futures, the children of commercial sex workers, are deprived, vulnerable, and marginalized in the society due to the profession of their parent. They are denied the opportunity to be free of their background and are deprived of an environment conducive for healthy physical and psychological development. The children suffer from nutritional deficiencies, minimal health care, nonavailability of basic needs, and social handicaps.[7]

Feeling of precariousness

The participant expresses a feeling of being vulnerable. Precariousness of life is another commonly occurring theme in the interview. “My life is like gutter. You know where I am from. You know about my life, my mother, I feel so bad. Who wants to live in the gutter? There is no life here” sighed the participant. He reckons that life will always be full of hardships and is denied the opportunity just because of his social background. Hence, not permitting him to think and achieve big.

”Any application form that I have to fill wants to know my parent's occupation, my hand cringes to fill it…. Our livelihood is uncertain in the brothel, sometimes, we have money for a sumptuous meal, and sometimes, we have no money for even a loaf of bread…. I have no idea about my mother's life, my brother's future. Both of them are not doing the right thing. My brother is a useless boy and I am more apprehensive about his future than he is for himself.” The participant fears the ambiguous nature of life and is indecisive about long-term plans.

Life poses several challenges and being resilient to stand up after being knocked off will allow a person to move forward. Most individuals are in a state of flux and express instability. Being surrounded by people who can support and accept one another can serve as protective factor. Usually, this layer of protection is provided by family and peers.

Research findings have revealed that parent-child interaction promotes the child's physical well-being, perceptual ability, and competency for relating with others. Children with a positive parental role model demonstrate enhanced self-control and ability to take the initiative.[10] The lack of family structure in the red-light areas makes the children vulnerable, and there is a prospect that they see the world as an unstable, frightening, and dangerous place, which can undermine their sense of self-worth and their ability to cope with and adapt to their environment.

Antipathy towards home environment

The participant expressed a strong opposition to the way his mother and brother lead life. This has emerged as the next commonly occurring theme after disgust toward commercial sex work and feeling of precariousness. The participant lives in the hostel and reported that he never feels like visiting his mother. “I don't go home during vacation. Every time I go home, there will be something to bother me more. He adds, “Either my brother is fighting or it's my mother. Sometimes my mother's husband will be there……. He is not my biological father. My biological father died in 2010. My mother never lived with him. He used to live away and my mother found another man here, this man has changed my mother's mind so much, that she can die for him. Because of him, she does not give me the love and care I need.” It was noted that most quarrels at home would lead to physical damage to things or violence toward each other. It was also noted that most of the issues among the family members arose for money and the participant perceives his brother to be the initiator of most rows. “My brother is a useless boy. He runs a gym and he does not take care of it properly also. He does not let me go to work also. I don't know why. I'm tired of telling him to be responsible. He does not understand the situation at home. My mother is working hard. We have to pay rent here, my expenditure at the hostel, run the family…. We are worse than poor people. My brother earns but still demands money at home. Never lends a helping hand to run the family, he always troubles my mother for money. She gives him money every time and shouts at me if I ask for the same. She gives him money because he will shout and fight. He will break expensive things in the house such as vessels, gas, and fridge.” Finances have been reported to be one of the major sources to cause dysfunction in the family. When the family faces financial issues and faces issues with money, the members in the family get anxious and that leads to a crack in the system causing disharmony.[11] “No matter what, she is still my mother. I'll have to take care of her” indicates unhappiness with family but the participant does not want to cut ties. “I have seen families of my friends in school and college; I know mine is not normal. I am able to perceive the difference,” point to the comparison drawn by the participant between his family and families of his peers out of the brothel. When a child is aware of the alternate option of how a family could be like without excessive conflicts, their mental frame does not permit them to accept, approve, and normalize the situation at home. For children of commercial sex workers, the father is usually a distant figure and the mother is the only source of affection and warmth. When family support to optimal growth is replaced by conflict, neglect, and emotional disturbances within the family members, it affects the child's subjective and psychological well-being.

Irrational thoughts

The next more repeated theme derived is the possession of irrational thoughts by the participants. “All men are cheaters, all policemen are frauds, all good people in the world are only in the armed forces,” are a few examples as reported by the participant. The participant throughout the interview expressed overgeneralization. It was also observed that most irrational thoughts expressed by the participant were about the world. It was also noted that the consequences of most actions were attributed using external locus of control, “I live in the hostel and only if my mother did not leave my father, I would have been in a better place…… my mother told me that my father was a strict man, hence I did not meet him when he was alive.” Irrational thoughts and attribution style are shaped by childhood experiences. Children raised with parents who reassure and encourage independence help them to learn connections between actions and their consequences and tend to have well developed thoughts. Children of commercial sex workers are vulnerable to psychological problems. The issues that the children face can be minimized with a healthy relationship system and a trusting adult who can cater to the needs of these children.

Anticipation of a better future

This theme is the least emerging theme in the interview but was spoken about with the highest priority by the participant. Statements like “I think I am the only one who is struggling to get out of this place and lead life like normal, I have to do something in life, I want to earn respect, I always tell people to study well and find good jobs” serve as the examples for the need to live a better life. The participant expressed his desire to join the Indian Armed Forces and stressed on the point that he has started training himself to stay fit for the Service Selection Board. In contrast, he also expressed his detestation toward the police personnel and reported that he has no faith in the legal system. He said, “I don't want to be a police man. I know one police man who made a lot of money in 1 month. He is of a sergeant rank in the traffic police department. They extort money. Everyone shouts at a policeman. Policeman's children also do not get the respect. Everyone will tease them that their farther makes money by extortion. I will never become a police man.” The participant also added that he wants to live life like everyone the way everyone away from the brothel lives.

Analysis of the comparison of elicited themes using Glasser's Choice Theory

On cross comparison of the elicited themes, it is evident that both individuals have a different perceived world. Although both participants share similar mental representation of a quality world, the mode to achieve living the way they want is unique. Both participants want to be successful, earn sufficient money, achieve fame and take care of their family but the way they intend to do it, the choice they make to reach their desire is unique and is influenced by the environment and experiences of their life course. Kailash describes “money” as a major picture of his desired world, whereas Kiran describes “earning respect in the society” as a chief mental picture in his quality world. Money and being respected defines success to the participants,' respectively.

Every individual is constantly comparing the mental pictures of the quality world (the desire) to the perceived world (the reality). When both these worlds match, a person feels good and continues doing what one usually tends to, but when there is a mismatch, it creates a sense of frustration depending on the importance that a person has given to achieve representations of the quality world. The frustration due to the mismatch makes a person to behave in a way that can help attain the desired world.

Both participants are in a realm of frustration because of the imbalance in the scales between the desired and the reality. This imbalance has allowed the participants to choose their way to act, think and feel that will permit them to effectively balance the imbalanced scale. The social environments in which the participants have been raised are responsible for the choices that they have made. Participant 1 has resorted to earning monetary reward irrespective of the means, displays complacency in life and is compliant with the present status of living while participant 2 anticipates a better future and chooses education as a means to earn success and respect. Both participants exhibit prototypically different behaviors to deal with conflicts that arise in an attempt to attain a similar quality world of being successful. The attempt to resolve them has been manifested in the choices and decisions they have made.

It was found that the only common theme that occurred was being protective about their mother. Although both participants express animosity toward their mother, they conclude that they love their mother and are protective about her. Verbatim from case 1, “My mother kept me with her because she'll feel lonely. I do not want to leave her alone” and verbatim from case 2, “I have realized that no matter what, she is my mother and I will be there for her” indicate that they care for their mother. The need to take care of their mother is a strong mental image of the quality worlds of both participants. During the course of the interview, both participants have reported that they need to earn money to take care of their mother. The mother is identified as a significant character in their quality world.

Key findings

  • Kailash approves of the mother's profession while Kiran accepts his mother but does not approve of her profession
  • Kailash is in compliance with his life, whereas Kiran finds his family dysfunctional when compared to families not influenced by the brothel. This awareness has been possible due to his stay in the hostel
  • Kailash feels guarded in the red-light area while Kiran has a feeling of uncertainty
  • Kailash has developed a sense of complacency while Kiran is anticipating a better future
  • Both children report that they care for their mother
  • Kailash had an early exposure to substance while Kiran reports that he is a teetotaler and seldom had an exposure to substance
  • Both children reckon that the society is prejudiced towards them
  • Kailash has a high need to earn money while Kiran has a high need to earn respect.


Limitations

  • The participants were not assessed for the diagnosis of mental health issues
  • Lack of informants for further exploration of the lives of the participants.



  Conclusion Top


Environment can make two children from the same family very different. Although it cannot be discarded that the individual differences in genetics are primarily responsible for individual differences, at the same time, research has also indicated that about half the variability is attributable to individual differences in environmental/experiential factors. Being raised in different environments contributes to the difference in experiences, and environmental variance can influence personality, psychopathology and cognition. In the case studies presented above, the siblings are from the same parent but brought up in different environments which has created a difference in their perception of situations and society in their course of life.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
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