Hot Pants at the Border. Sorting Sex Work from Trafficking

Sharon Pickering and Julie Ha (2013): Hot Pants at the Border Sorting Sex Work from Trafficking, in: British JOurnal of Criminology, Online First.

Abstract

The role of borders in managing sex work is a valuable site for analysing the relationship between criminal justice and migration administration functions. For the purposes of this article, we are concerned with how generalized concerns around trafficking manifest in specific interactions between immigration officials and women travellers. To this end, this article contributes to a greater understanding of the micro-politics of border control and the various contradictions at work in the everyday performance of the border. It uses an intersectional analysis of the decision making of immigration officers at the border to understand how social differences become conflated with risk, how different social locations amplify what is read as risky sexuality and how sexuality is constructed in migration. What the interviews in our research have demonstrated is that, while the border is a poor site for identifying cases of trafficking into the sex industry, it is a site of significant social sorting where various intersections of intelligence-led profiling and everyday stereotyping of women, sex work and vulnerability play out.

Conclusion

The risk profiles used by immigration officers encompass a range of social locations. These profiles, when considering sex work, served to obscure the whole picture despite operating with a veneer of neutrality. This research found that there is a combination of different indicators that identifies risk for officers, rather than specific social difference alone. These social differences become conflated with risk and amplified what is considered risky sexuality in the context of border control.

Border crossing lies at the heart of the definition of trafficking, and yet is often largely irrelevant because trafficking is rarely identifiable at the border. Frequently, all that is possible at the border is to identify the potential of trafficking and victimization. Trafficking involves exploitation and human rights violations in the workplace (or destination site) as well as in the migration process. What the interviews in our research have demonstrated is that, while the border is a poor site for identifying cases of trafficking into the sex industry, it is a site of significant social sorting (Adey 2003; Lyon 2006; Murià and Chávez 2011), where various intersections of intelligence-led profiling and everyday stereotyping of women, sex work and vulnerability play out.

The bureaucratic binary that dominates the airport administrative environment needs to shift if a more responsive regulatory context is to emerge whereby strong workplace regulation in the sex industry might be capable of challenging current practices based on anti-prostitution ideology or poorly informed rule adherence and effectively dealing with workplace exploitation. This would include a more sustained partnership in engaging women who may be at risk of exploitation as well as enabling the clearer and more effective identification and investigation of trafficking cases. In the meantime, the ongoing impact of sorting at the border needs to be more carefully monitored.

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