Intimate Interviews in Pabna: Portraits and Words From Two Sex Workers

Posted: 05 Jan 2012 03:32 PM PST On the bus to Pabna I met two fantastic Bengali’s who offered to take me around the town of Pabna by getting me access to anything I so curiously decide to photograph. In my previous blog post you had the opportunity to see inside the mental institution where Reza and Licholn were able to volunteer their time and them-selves helping me gain the access I needed. Reza and Licholn also work for a local initiative where basic health education, STD testing/treatment, condoms, and support is offered to the thousands of sex workers (8,000-10,000) that call Pabna and the surrounding area home.

This blog post is dedicated to the woman and children that are continually being exploitive around the world through trafficking, prostitution, and abuse. This is a topic that has always interested me. I do not know exactly what specifically it is about this topic that interests me but I can not help but think how sex workers have no alternative choice in a life when there are no other options available.

One evening Reza, Licholn, and I were walking through one of the markets after dinner talking about the organization they work for. Suddenly, a woman came up to the two of them and started enthusiastically joking with them. She was short, wearing a beautiful dark maroon Sari that was covered in sequence and gem stones. Her hair was beautifully curled and her make-up done as if she was about to take part in the next up and coming Bollywood film. Suddenly Reza opens his bag and hands this woman what looked like to be about 20-30 condoms. After the three of them saw my reaction they immediately started laughing and told me that she was a very close friend, she was also a sex worker in Pabna.

This woman was smiling, laughing, and I could not help but notice how confident she carried herself through her posture, body language, and how open she was open about her sexuality in a Muslim society as she joked around with the three of us, Reza obviously doing the translating. My curiosity got the best of me and I couldn’t help but wanting to seize an opportunity asking her if she would be open to an interview, followed by having her portrait taken, and if she knew any other woman that would be open to this suggestion. Without hesitation, tilting her head to the side with a cheeky smile letting me know she would be more than happy, not before expressing how excited she was to get all dulled up for a photo-shoot and having her photograph taken. We agreed on a time, date, locations, we then said our goodbyes, and parted ways until the interviews the following day.

The day of the interview, Lobani (Woman I met at the night market), Reza, Licholn, Bornna (Lobani’s friend and sex worker), and I went to a guesthouse where the owner of the guesthouse gave us a meeting room free of charge. When we entered the room there were couches and chairs surrounding one main table in the center with two windows offering ample enough light to take photographs. I briefed Reza and Licholn before the interview on what I was going to ask Bornna and Lobani and what I needed from them in regards to translating. As always they were SUPER awesome, supportive, and cooperative.

I sat Lobani and Bornna down and told them what my intentions were behind the interviews, asking them to answer the questions honestly, and to not feel obligated to answer or talk about anything they felt uncomfortable with. I wanted them to be as comfortable and open with me as much as they would allow me to.

When I first met Bornna she had a stone cold sarcastic attitude about her. She was very direct and to the point. She walked with confidence and would speak her mind without hesitation to anyone her challenged her, including men. I found loyal characteristics in her personality surviving on her “treat me as how you want to be treated” attitude or you will feel this woman’s wrath…. Literally.

At first glance Lobani is very short in stature with curves similar to Aretha Franklin. Her eyes are bright allowing her to smile with her eyes like a shy eight year old with a subtle carefree softness to her personality. I found her a bit mysterious yet her smile and child like attitude could melt anyone’s soul with pure love.

The interviews lasted about 1.5 hours, which included a list of questions that I asked both Lobani and Bornna.

The following text will go through the interview so you have an idea of what was asked and how they responded.


How old are you?

L-I am 32 years old.

Are you married?

L-I was once married but my husband left me. He left me for another woman when I was 19.

Do you have any children?

L-I do not have any children.

How long have you been a sex worker?

L-Ten years.


Lobani immediately breaks down and we take ten minutes so she can regain her composure.


Where are your parents?

L-My parents have passed on.

Who are the men that come to you for sex?

L-Police, politicians, husbands, NGO executives, charity workers, and single men.

Where do you live?

L-I live alone in town and usually every two months or so I have to find a new place to live, as my landlord does not want a prostitute living in his building.

How much are you able to earn from each man that comes to you for sex?

L-I make on average about 300-500 taka per session ($3.50-$6.50) it works out to be around 10,000 Taka per-month ($125.00)

Do you see yourself getting married again?


Why not?

L-I have lost faith in ALL men, and I will never trust another men as long as I am alive.



How old are you?

B-I am 27 years old.

Were you ever married?

B-My husband left me just like Lobani’s husband left her for another woman.

Do you have any children?

B-I do, her name is Shonile and she is nine years old.

How long have you been a sex worker?

B-Eight years.

How often do men come to you for sex?

B-It depends; some months and weeks are busier than others. It is never consistent it’s always up and down.

Where do you live?

B-I live with my mother.

Does she know you’re a sex worker?


What would your mother do or how would she react if she found out about your situation?

B-…(Making a choking action with her hands).

Have you re-married?

B-No and I will never get married again.

Have you ever suffered from any physical abuse from the men that come to you for sex?

B-Every week.

What exactly do these men do to you?

B-Spit on me, kick me, punch me, call me names, and rape me when I don’t want to give them sex.

How many times have Lobani and you been raped?

B-It happens about twice a week. Sometimes more, sometimes less. On some occasions groups of men will come where only one person commits to payment and the rest of them will rape me.

What do you Lobani and Bornna hope for in life?

B-We pray for when life will get better, to stop doing things we are ashamed of, to live a life with happiness.














Bornna & Lobani.