Public Health student wins TPHA competition

Shlesma Chhetri UNTHSCShlesma Chhetri, a doctoral student in UNT Health Science Center’s School of Public Health, has been recognized by the Texas Public Health Association (TPHA) for a presentation on the sex trade and homeless women.

Chhetri, who is working toward a PhD in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health, won the Outstanding Student Oral Presentation award at the TPHA’s annual education conference.

Working with Associate Professor Emily Spence-Almaguer, MSW, PhD, and UNTHSC medical student Gabrianna Saks, MPH, Chhetri’s presentation focused on “Sex Trade: Survival Strategy Among Homeless Women.”

The project extended from a 2013 study for the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition, where the professor and 10 student researchers conducted more than 150 face-to-face interviews with women living on the streets and in emergency shelters in Fort Worth.

Chhetri’s presentation explored the complexities faced by homeless women, the issue of sex trade, and the effects of these experiences on their physical and mental health.

In contrast to Texas and the U.S., homelessness in Fort Worth has risen in recent years. Forty percent of women interviewed reported having been approached to trade sex, and 26 percent said they had engaged in sex trade.

One in every six women said they had traded sex for a place to stay, and 13 percent had traded sex for food.

The interviews also found that those who engaged in sex trade were significantly more likely to have experienced recent victimization.

These women were also more likely to report medical and reproductive health issues and engage in higher alcohol and drug use. This population also was diagnosed with a higher percentage of mental health conditions versus other homeless women interviewed.

The presentation showed the impact of this study on helping to initiate a community response currently underway to address violence against Fort Worth homeless women.

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