This article examines the paradoxes of neoliberalism through two migrant sex workers’ negotiation of the transnational disciplinary regimes of morality, national security, and humanitarianism. We take as our point of departure their active resistance to the label of “victims of sex trafficking.” From a close analysis of their migration journey and their experiences in the United States, we come to understand these women as defiant neoliberal subjects. We argue that global anti-trafficking initiatives as they have taken shape in the twenty-first century are part of neoliberal governance. The women’s sexual labor subjects them to the scrutiny and penalty of the state. Yet they see themselves as self-sufficient, self-responsible, and self-enterprising individuals. We locate these tensions within three paradoxes of neoliberalism: the apparent amorality of neoliberalism and its facilitation of a conservative moral agenda; the depoliticization of social risks and the hyperpoliticization of national security; and the continuous creation and ravaging of vulnerable populations coupled with the celebration of humanitarian/philanthropic responses from governmental and NGO sectors. Juxtaposing these women’s self-making projects with the transnational state apparatus to combat “sex trafficking,” we gain insights into how individual pursuits and state practices intersect at this neoliberal moment—despite their different purposes.
The Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development has inserted a new clause in the Sexual Offences Bill that will criminalise the clients of sex workers, with the specific intent to protect women and children from exploitation. In reality it has the potential to cause real harm to the women it aims to protect. Although it is possible that the Committee hoped to level the playing field ‘so that women who sell sex are not the only ones guilty of an offence, but also the men who purchase it’ (Gould 2006), sex workers will be most affected because they will now have to protect the clients who are their only source of income.
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Mann, S.E. (2014). More-than-survival strategies: Sex workers’ unhappy stories. (Unpublished MA major research project). Athabasca University. Athabasca, AB.
This essay examines the contributions of unhappy autobiographical narratives to the sex workers’ rights movement. Dominating sex worker advocacy discourse is a “happy hooker” image that eschews “negative” and “stereotypical” characterizations of prostitutes and other sex workers. But as the internet becomes more and more a site for sex work activism, some unhappy whores are using online autobiographical practices to resist this disavowal of negative experience. While reluctant or coerced engagements in sex work are often referred to as “survival sex work,” unhappy sex workers’ online writing practices function as a more-than-survival strategy, politicizing and resisting rather than disavowing the harms they experience in sex work. After reviewing literary and geographical scholarship on the political disenfranchisement of sex workers and situating this disenfranchisement in Judith Butler’s analysis of “the bad life,” this paper presents two close readings of sex workers’ online autobiographical practices. The first analyzes the discourse of disavowal of unhappy experience in sex worker advocacy and its harmful effects on unhappy sex workers. The second close reading discusses sex workers’ stories about exiting the sex industry, highlighting sex workers’ use of metaphors of space and place to elucidate their experiences. The essay concludes on sex workers’ strategies for more-than-surviving: using the three politicizing tactics identified by Butler to resist their expulsion to the bad life.
Shah, Svati P. (2011): Sex work and the Women’s Movements.
This paper places the development of sex workers’ movements over the past two decades within the historical context of feminist discourses on violence against women. The paper discusses the importance of the discourse on violence against women in framing contemporary abolitionist campaigns that seek to criminalize sex work. It goes on to discuss the contemporary context, including the status of alliances and dialogue between women’s, LGBTQ, and sex workers’ movements, focusing on India. The history of responses to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the question of agency are also discussed. The paper ultimately calls into question the effects of using a liberal framework to craft interventions in the governance of sexual commerce.
This study places international law on sex trafficking in a broad theoretical and historical context. First, it identifies the international law on sex trafficking as part of an “international law of prohibitionism” that operates as a particular kind of response to and management of globalization.
Second, this study identifies dynamic forces both “external to” and “internal to” law that lead to prohibitionism. “External” factors refer to economic, sociological and cultural phenomena that seem to have triggered the turn to prohibition. The international legal framework responds to and reflects these external sociological factors; these factors are also productive of state power for the purposes of policing illegal transactions.
Taking an historical approach, it is possible to construct a loose parallel between prohibitionism during the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. If such dynamics helped secure the basis for the modern administrative state in the early 20th century, by supporting the consolidation of national police power, they may undergird and reinforce the expansion, not only of national, but also of international legal authority, in the 21st.
The study’s “internal” factors are social and legal concepts that determine the formulation, interpretation and application of a legal test. This internal analysis here examines the interaction within doctrinal structures of the dichotomy between legal consent and legal coercion, and of the mediating concepts of normality and abnormality. Both external and internal factors buttress the international law of prohibition as a basis for the expansion of state authority and of the authoritativeness of international law.
Third, the study refines the historical context mentioned above to look at the international law against sex trafficking in particular. In the last great era of unregulated economic expansionism, the turn of the 19th century, concerns similar to anti-trafficking were in wide circulation, but expressed under the rubric of “white slavery.” The earlier law, and the discourse surrounding it, exhibited some of the same features as the contemporary law.
Finally, this study suggests that, whatever the moralistic or misguided features of prohibitionism, its rise may also prefigure a transition to broader market regulation. Prohibitionism is deeply implicated in a laisser-faire approach to law; it is the mirror image of, but also the continuation of, the vast apparatus necessary to maintain a market-oriented regulatory posture. It provides a vocabulary – mediated by constructs of ‘abnormality,’ or ‘extraordinary’ cases – to enable the discussion of market controls in an ideological environment in which such discussion might otherwise be discouraged. Even as it supports the market, however, prohibitionism is also associated with a set of concerns about the market’s potentially harmful effects. Under the ideological constraints of laisser-fair-ism, concerns relating to the abuses of the deregulated market may tend to focus on extraordinary cases. Such concerns, however, though first expressed about “abnormal” contracts (such as those related to the trafficking of persons), may turn out slowly to gain sufficient currency to apply to “ordinary,” “normal” contracts.
As legal subjects, women seem to have provided the template for this discursive transformation in both historical eras (consider that the West Coast Hotel case that ended the Lochner era addressed the social need to protect women in the workplace). If the study’s suggestions are accurate, then, prohibitionism may signal a change from the view that market regulation must be exceptional to an understanding of its pervasive importance.
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Faran Emmanuel, Laura H Thompson, Uzma Athar, Momina Salim, Altaf Sonia, Naeem Akhtar and James F Blanchard, “The organisation, operational dynamics and structure of female sex work in Pakistan” Sexually Transmitted Infections 2013; 89:ii29-ii33; doi:10.1136/sextrans-2013-051062
Pakistan is known to have large populations of female sex workers (FSWs) with considerable geographic heterogeneity in their characteristics. In this paper, we describe the social organisation and structural patterns of female sex work in different geographic regions of Pakistan.
We report geographic and network mapping data collected among FSWs in 15 cities across Pakistan in 2011 as part of the Canada-Pakistan HIV/AIDS Surveillance Project.
A total number of 89 178 FSWs were estimated in the target cities for an average of 7.2 FSWs per 1000 adult males. 55% of the estimated number of FSWs concentrated in Karachi and Lahore. Based on the operations of female sex work, two major typologies of FSWs were identified: establishment-based and non-establishment-based. FSWs were further subtyped into those operating through brothels, homes, kothikhanas, streets and by cell phone. Cities varied considerably in terms of predominance of different FSW typologies.
There is considerable heterogeneity among FSWs in Pakistan, geographically and in terms of operational typology. Understanding the social organisation of sex work and the influence of social-cultural and legal factors in Pakistan is essential for the design of HIV prevention programmes and other services for FSWs.
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