A long walk to freedom: An examination of the process of exit among women from commercial sexual exploitation across cultures
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The increase in the global trend of women and girls involved in commercial sexual exploitation (CSE, through prostitution, sex trafficking), and the minimal existing knowledge about how they exit this form of exploitation is alarming, especially given the eviscerating impact this form of violence perpetuates on its victims. The sparse research, mainly conducted in the West, describes the process of exit from CSE as occurring in stages and highlights the important role played by social service organizations in reaching out to these victims. However, neither has exit from CSE been quantitatively examined nor have factors influencing service provision across different cultures (which is imperative given the global nature of this exploitation), been identified to a satisfactory extent. This study aims to address some of these shortcomings. Using a mixed method design, it quantitatively examines (through a survey design) the exit process of 250 women in, exiting, or exited CSE, and qualitatively identifies (through semi-structured interviews) factors influencing the service provision from 74 service providers serving this population. The participants belong to 20 organizations, either receiving or providing services, in the U.S. and India. The quantitative section reveals that readiness to change in an individual relates to their process of exit from CSE, with factors that predict their readiness differing between the U.S. and India. The study identifies the differential impact of needs and barriers encountered on the readiness to change, and also captures the satisfaction of women with varied kinds of services offered to them in both countries. The qualitative section provides greater insight into the exit phenomenon and identifies factors (such as the structure, leadership, values, socio-cultural norms, and perception of the service providers) within the organizations that influence the service provision. This study provides a comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon of exit from CSE and the service needs of women in different cultures. This, in turn, can assist organizations in developing appropriate interventions that are stage-specific and culturally sensitive, while simultaneously meeting the unique needs of women as they attempt to exit and avoid re-entry into CSE as they walk the long road to freedom from sexual exploitation.