This article draws from interview material with sex worker rights activists in London, and sex work scholarship, to explore the demand for labour rights for sex workers and erotic dancers. I argue that there are two positions visible in activism and scholarship, which I term ‘liberal’ and ‘materialist’. Whilst the former posits that the problem with sex work is insufficient mainstreaming of commercial sex within the labour market, the latter stresses the need for protections and freedoms from the labour market and repressive criminal and immigration laws. I suggest that these two perspectives need to be thought together. To this end, for the first time in the UK context I ask what labour rights can do for erotic dancers and indoor-based sex workers. I argue that, whilst labour law may offer some level of protection, both forms of commercial sexual service are ultimately unmanageable and that the strategy of securing individual labour rights suffers from several limitations. In the final part, I map the materialist frames onto broader feminist citizenship debates. I ask whether these models can deliver the protections sought and tentatively propose that a feminist-oriented demand for a basic income may be of use to the sex worker rights movement today.
Introduction: This article provides an overview of the financial lives of women (n = 204) engaging in sex work in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
Methods: This paper presents findings from a computer-based, interviewer-administered baseline assessment administered with women recruited for participation in a randomized controlled trial testing the feasibility of a combined HIV risk reduction and savings-led microfinance intervention for women engaging in sex work in Mongolia.
Findings: Findings demonstrate that most women are the primary financial providers for their households, using an array of earning strategies to provide for themselves and other dependents, with sex work often constituting the primary household income source. Financial instability in the lives of people engaging in sex work may increase their risk for HIV and STIs due to a compromised ability to negotiate safer sex with partners in times of economic crisis or need. High levels of financial responsibility for household welfare, when combined with low reported savings, the presence of debt, higher premiums offered for sex without a condom, and high levels of harmful alcohol use, may heighten women’s risk for HIV and other STIs.
Conclusion: Further research that documents the financial lives of people working in sex work is needed in order to understand the complex relationship between financial stability and engagement in sex work, and to inform the development and testing of structural HIV prevention interventions which target the economic determinants of risk. These findings highlight the importance of economic support programming for women engaged in sex work in Mongolia at a time of rapid economic change in Mongolia.
Ahmed, Aziza and Meena Seshu, “We Have the Right Not to Be ‘Rescued’…”: When Anti-Trafficking Programmes Undermine the Health and Well-Being of Sex Workers”. Anti-Trafficking Review, Issue 1, pp. 149-168, June 2012; Northeastern University School of Law Research Paper No. 103-2012
This paper highlights the impact of raid, rescue, and rehabilitation schemes on HIV programmes. It uses a case study of Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (VAMP), a sex workers collective in Sangli, India, to explore the impact of anti-trafficking efforts on HIV prevention programmes. The paper begins with an overview of the anti-trafficking movement emerging out of the United States. This U.S. based anti-trafficking movement works in partnership with domestic Indian anti-trafficking organisations to raid brothels to “rescue and rehabilitate” sex workers. Contrary to the purported goal of assisting women, the anti-trafficking projects that employ a raid, rescue, and rehabilitate model often undermine HIV projects at the local level, in turn causing harm to women and girls. We examine the experience of one peer educator in Sangli to demonstrate and highlight some of the negative consequences of these anti-trafficking efforts on HIV prevention programmes.
Weitzer, Ronald, The Mythology of Prostitution: Advocacy Research and Public Policy (2010). Ronald Weitzer, “The Mythology of Prostitution: Advocacy Research and Public Policy,” Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 7, 1 (March 2010): 15-29. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1877989
Over the past decade, public policies on prostitution and other types of sex work have been increasingly contested, both in academia and in popular debates. One perspective, the oppression paradigm, is more and more reflected in media reporting on the sex industry and is steadily being articulated by government officials in the United States, Western Europe, and elsewhere. The proliferation of myths based on the oppression paradigm is responsible for the rise of a resurgent mythology of prostitution. This article examines the claims made by organizations, activists, and scholars who embrace the oppression paradigm, evaluates the reasoning and evidence used in support of their claims, and highlights some of the ways in which this perspective has influenced recent legislation and public policy in selected nations. The author presents an alternative perspective, the polymorphous paradigm, and suggests that public policy on prostitution would be better informed by this evidence-based perspective.
Shelton, Jacqueline, “Evil Becomes Her: Prostitution’s Transition from Necessary to Social Evil in 19th Century America” (2013). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 1172. http://dc.etsu.edu/etd/1172 (MA Thesis)
Full article available.
Nineteenth-century America witnessed a period of tremendous growth and change as cities flourished, immigration swelled, and industrialization spread. This setting allowed prostitution to thrive and professionalize, and the visibility of such “immoral” activity required Americans to seek a new understanding of morality. Current literature commonly considers prostitution as immediately declared a “social evil” or briefly mentions why Americans assigned it such a role. While correct that it eventually did become a “social evil,” the evolution of discourse relating to prostitution is a bit more complex. This thesis provides a survey of this evolution set against the changing American understanding of science and morality in the nineteenth century. By tracing the course of American thought on prostitution from necessary to social evil, this thesis contributes to a growing understanding of a marginalized group of people and America’s view of national morality.
All of us, with the exception of the independently wealthy and the unemployed, take money for the use of our body. Professors, factory workers, lawyers, opera singers, prostitutes, doctors, legislators—we all do things with parts of our bodies for which we receive a wage in return. ….. Read More
Feminist debates over sex commerce extend to a number of social practices, including pornography, prostitution, trafficking in persons, erotic dance and performance, and the use of sexual images of women to promote products and entertainment. Feminist theorists are divided on the question of whether markets in sexually explicit materials and sexual services are generally harmful to women. Accordingly, some feminist philosophers have explored and developed arguments for restricting sex markets, while others have investigated political movements that aim to advance the rights of sex workers.
Sex work, and prostitution in particular, has long divided feminist thinking. Specifically, much feminist thought seeks to condemn prostitution as a practice and to `save’ individual prostitute women. Many prostitutes do not identify with the feminist movement because they feel feminism is antagonistic towards their way of life. This essay explores current trends in feminist thinking towards prostitution, as well as reporting on some prostitutes’ views of feminism. It puts prostitutes and feminists into dialogue with one another, in order to answer the question – is a feminist stance in support of prostitution possible?
This article is based on ethnographic research carried out in sex shops – retail premises selling sex toys, clothing and accessories, as well as sexually explicit books and films – located in London’s Soho. Drawing on the concept of ‘dirty work’, it explores not only the ways in which the various taints associated with dirty work – physical, social and moral – are lived and experienced, but also the allure of this particular type of work for those who perform it, and particularly of Soho as a work place. In doing so, the article extends the study of dirty work by drawing attention to two related themes that emerged from the research – first, the performance of what might be termed ‘abject labour’; that is, work that invokes a simultaneous attraction and repulsion for those who undertake it, and second, the significance of location and place in understanding the lived experience of work and the meanings with which particular types of work are imbued. The discussion concludes by arguing that teasing out the inter-relationship between these two themes – of simultaneity (of repulsion and desire) and setting – enables us to better understand interconnections between the meanings attached to particular types of work, and the specific locations in which they take place.
This reference brief aims to clarify terms and illustrate examples of alternatives to the use of criminal law as a response to sex work. Understanding the range of legislative and policy options for responding to sex work is critical to establishing policies consistent with respecting, protecting, and fulfilling the human rights of sex workers. Laws and policies on sex work should be based on the best available evidence about what works to protect health and rights. They should optimize sex workers’ ability to realize the right to due process under the law, the right to privacy, the right to form associations, the right to be free of discrimination, abuse, and violence, and the right to work and to just and favorable conditions of work.
Sex workers should have a meaningful role in the design, implementation, and monitoring of the laws and policies that affect them.