(CNSNews.com) – An ongoing federally funded research project that has cost taxpayers $2.44 million has concluded, among other things, that "deportation and loneliness" led former illegal aliens in Tijuana, Mexico to use drugs and patronize prostitutes.
Researchers working on the project—“Safer Sex Intervention for Male Clients of Female Sex Workers in Tijuana, Mexico”--did one-hour interviews with 30 men from both the United States and Mexico who patronized prostitutes in Tijuana’s Zona Roja.
The researchers paid the men $20 a piece “to describe and reflect upon their experiences purchasing sex” from prostitutes and answer questions that “explored clients’ motivations for seeking commercial sex, their condom use, perceived STI and HIV risk, and narratives on how socio-cultural and structural factors influence sexual and drug using behaviors.”
“Although deportees were not a specific recruitment target, almost all of the Mexican-born participants had been deported to Tijuana from the U.S., leading to separation from partners and families who remained al otro lado (‘on the other side’),” said an article the researchers published in the April 2011 issue of Social Science and Medicine.
“Most participants described how deportation and loneliness led to visiting FSWs [female sex workers] and using drugs simultaneously,” the researchers wrote. “Heavy drug use and unprotected sex were seen by some as inextricably linked responses to a lack of social support."
The April 2011 journal article included direct quotes from some of the prostitute patrons.
“How did you feel? What was going on with you?” one of the researchers asked a Tijuana prostitute patron.
“Loneliness….immense loneliness. That this city cannot fulfill,” the man said.
“Oh, my goodness. Do you think that being lonely pushed you to find some company in a female sex worker?” asked the researcher.
“I’m in my motel room thinking, ‘what am I gonna do the rest of the night?’” said the prostitute patron. “These girls come to mind that I can have sex with for a small amount of money, so I do.”
Some of the men interviewed said it had been easier not to patronize prostitutes when they were living in the United States.
“Men who had lived in the U.S. perceived that different sexual behaviors and greater economic opportunities in the U.S. resulted in lower HIV risks there compared to Tijuana,” the researchers wrote. “For example, clients discussed how living in the U.S. was more likely to facilitate legitimate employment, reduced drug use, and stable intimate relationships.”
One 38-year-old Tijuana man told the researchers: “There [the U.S.] I wasn’t going out on the streets to look for women. I had a job and when I got home, I spent time with my family. It was very different.”
“When I lived on the other side [the U.S.], I didn’t know anything about prostitutes …,” a 49-year-old man told the researchers. “Here in Tijuana, what I see in regards to prostitution is that it’s normal, because I live in this area.”
The project, funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, is run by researchers at the University of California-San Diego, under the direction of Psychiatry Professor Thomas L. Patterson. Over the past five years, NIDA has granted a total of $2,440,150 to the “Safer Sex Intervention for Male Clients of Female Sex Workers in Tijuana, Mexico” project. In 2010, NIDA gave him $608,748; in 2011, it gave him $588,588; in 2012, it gave him $586,764; and in 2013, it gave him two installments of $96,100 and $559,950.
A description of the project on the NIH website explains its purpose.
“This study proposes to test a brief, one-hour counseling intervention with male clients in Tijuana, Mexico, to reduce their rates of unprotected sex (i.e., sex without a condom) with FSWs as well as their rates of infection with HIV and STIs,” says the description. “Finding an effective intervention for this population is important given the rising rates of HIV infection in Tijuana (as documented in earlier studies) and the large numbers of people crossing the border in both directions, many of them specifically to purchase sex from FSWs in Tijuana.”
Among their conclusions, the researchers found that “intensified border enforcement” has increased the HIV risk in Mexico, and that Mexican border communities need programs that provide health services and “economic and social support” to deportees.
“Internationally, migration, deportation, and social isolation have been linked to elevated HIV risk,” the researchers wrote. “We argue that these are consequences of wider geopolitical forces, such as U.S. immigration policies and enforcement actions.”
“We believe that intensified border enforcement and increased deportations, which have occurred in response to this movement, have had serious mental and physical consequences that have perhaps been overlooked,” said the researchers.
“These deportees most often end up at Mexico’s northern border, including two deportation centers in Tijuana, where health, social, and economic support and limited and most deportees are separated from their families and lacking in resources (i.e., isolated and disenfranchised),” the researchers said. “HIV prevention programs that encompass health services and economic and social support for deportees (e.g., shelter, counseling, HIV and STI testing, drug abuse treatment) should be developed in these settings.”
CNSNews.com contacted Dr. Patterson several times by e-mail and telephone to ask about the progress of his research and how its use of taxpayer money is justified, but Dr. Patterson did not respond.
CNSNews.com also asked the National Institutes of Health (NIH) about the most recent grant made to the project in the current fiscal year.
“This is a diversity training supplement to an existing grant,” NIH responded in an email. “It is designed to prepare behavioral scientists, especially racial/ethnic minorities, to conduct research in the areas of drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, and crime. NIH research addresses the full spectrum of human health across all populations of Americans. Behavioral research will continue to be an important area of research supported by NIH. Only by developing effective prevention and treatment strategies for health-injuring behaviors such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, drug abuse, unprotected sex, can we reduce the disease burden in the U.S. and thus, enhance health and lengthen life, which is the mission of the NIH.”
The NIH-funded researchers published a second journal article in the May 2011 edition of Health Place. For this study, they surveyed 400 men who patronized prostitutes in Tijuana and did “qualitative interviews” with 30 of them, who were paid $20 a piece for the interviews.
The researchers discovered that patrons of Tijuana prostitutes believed the decision to pick up a prostitute on the street was “subject to more sound judgment” than the decision to pick up a prostitute in a “nightlife venue.”
“Binges on alcohol within this setting were described as clouding clients’ and FSWs’ judgment, often leading to unprotected sex,” the researchers wrote. “Many clients juxtaposed this against social norms guiding street-based sex work practices, which were said to be less influenced by alcohol and thus subject to more sound judgment.”
The researchers published a third article in Epidemiology and Prevention in August 2012. For this article, they surveyed 383 men who patronized prostitutes in Tijuana to compare “‘bridgers’ (clients who had unprotected sex with FSWs and with a wife or steady partner) with men who did not.” Here they concluded: “Sensation-seeking clients who use drugs during sex and coerce FSWs into unprotected sex may be less responsive to standard risk reduction interventions.”
They learned that of 134 men who were married or had a partner and who patronized Tijuana prostitutes 55.2 percent had “unprotected sex” with a prostitute and 62.7 percent used drugs while having sex with a prostitute.
In an article published in the May 2013 edition of AIDS Behavior, the researchers discussed a survey they did of 375 men from San Diego and Tijuana who patronized prostitutes in Tijuana.
“Consistent with our hypothesis, we found that among clients who reported having sex with FSWs in a bar/cantina, more intoxication of alcohol during sex was associated with more unprotected sex; this relationship was not found among clients who did not report having sex in a bar/cantina.”