This paper problematizes the representation of sex work(ers) through examination of two case studies. Drawing on the existing theoretical literature on sex work and working through the lens of intersectionality and interlocking analysis, this study uses the two case studies as illustrations of the way in which representations of sex workers online can normalize sex work, complicate images of sex work, and help to open up a dialogue about sex work in the public sphere.
Researching marginalised groups is challenging and fraught with ethical issues. These issues can be exacerbated when the researcher is an outsider. Migrant sex workers are a marginalised group due to their position as a sex worker and their migrant status. For outsiders undertaking research with these groups there is the potential for their personal beliefs and moral views around migration, sex work, race, gender and sexuality to influence research methodology, analysis, interpretation and outcomes. Often this has resulted in migrant sex workers being portrayed as victims in need of help, rather than as active, self-determining agents. Much of the research relating to migrant sex workers and trafficking has taken place in institutionalised settings. In such settings, there is good reason for migrant sex workers to identify as coerced victims in need of help rather than as willing migrants who have experienced bad workplace situations and/or who have engaged in alternate migration pathways. Research of this type is usually conducted in detention centres or refuges or worse still – citing difficulties in accessing this population, some researchers will only interview service providers and make conclusions without ever speaking to the target population the research makes claims about. Insiders can more readily gain full and uncompromised access to sex workers affected by trafficking policy outside of institutional settings. In this paper using an example from Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association, we argue for more insider research. We present our methods and discuss how insider led migrant sex work research can lead to credible research outcomes and have many broader benefits for our community.
The 2000 UN Trafficking Protocol has obliged states to discourage demand that fosters exploitation that leads to trafficking. Fifteen years later, there is still no shared understanding of what demand means in the context of debates on trafficking in human beings (THB). The terms “trafficking” and “demand” display a lexical and referential ambiguity. This paper provides a history of the occurrence and usage of the concepts “trafficking” and “demand” in the context of debates on trafficking and explores the different meanings and understandings attached to these terms in past and present debates. The paper covers debates on trafficking in human beings since the 1860s and shows that terminological confusion was and still is a constant feature of these debates. The term abolition referred initially to the abolition of state regulation and not – as it is understood in the present-day debates – to the abolition of prostitution. The term trafficking is introduced in past and present debates with a confusing diversity of meanings, referring to the kidnapping of girls for the purpose of prostitution, fraudulent procurement of unsuspecting women for prostitution abroad, procurement of consenting women for prostitution, abetting of irregular border crossing or fraudulent abetting of irregular migration with the purpose of exploiting migrants after arrival and other issues. The term demand was introduced in past and present debates and has a diversity of meanings. It can refer to the biological drive of males, to a demand generated by a system of state regulation of prostitution, to a demand of brothel owners and pimps, or to a demand of male clients to purchase commercial sexual services. Thus, when the issue of demand is raised in debates of trafficking, the meaning attached to the term in a communication context is usually not clear; and the same speaker can often use the term demand rather metaphorically with changing meanings. The paper shows that terminological confusion is effect and cause of ongoing and unsolved controversies about the legal handling of prostitution. The paper shows how the issue of demand originally entered the UN Trafficking Protocol and how subsequent attempts failed to develop an authoritative definition. Although debates are characterised by terminological ambiguity, even the claim that a definition is a necessity is denied. Conceptual confusion hampers mutual understanding, prevents reasonable dispute and undermines the capacity to develop policy approaches which effectively provide protection from trafficking and exploitation. The paper closes with the observation that the controversy surrounding the meaning of demand in the context of anti-trafficking efforts has the effect of raising attention to deal more directly with the issue of exploitation.
This article explores the policy underpinning Sweden’s 1999 ban on purchases of sexual services with a focus on the social and health service sectors and their role vis-à-vis people who sell sex. It argues that the rationale behind the ban is difficult to reconcile with legislation and practices beyond the merit of criminal justice. While an understanding of prostitution as “men’s violence against women” may serve symbolic functions at central policy level, it can hardly guide local implementation without conflicting with core social policy principles. The article concludes that there is a need to address the agency of people who sell sex, since denying or minimizing such agency may be counterproductive to the policy’s own objectives.
Editorial – Blurred Lines: The Contested Nature of Sex Work in a Changing Social Landscape, Laura Connelly, Laura Jarvis-King and Gemma Ahearne
Saving us from penetration – ponderings from a trans rentboy, Jet Young
Between the Sex Industry and Academia: Navigating Stigma and Disgust, Gemma Ahearne
Yeah, they’ve started to get a bit fucking cocky …’ Culture, Economic Change and Shifting Power Relations within the Scottish Lap-Dancing Industry, Billie Lister
Victor or victim? Foregrounding the independent escort experience outside of the polarised debate, Rae Story and Glen Jankowski
Direct sex work in Great Britain: reflecting diversity, Jane Pitcher
The changing landscape of Scottish responses to sex work: addressing violence against sex workers, Emma Smith
Contested spaces: Exploring the intersections of migration, sex work and trafficking in South Africa, Rebecca Walker and Elsa Oliveira
The ‘Rescue Industry’: The blurred line between help and hindrance, Laura Connelly
Photo Essay Tony Stone
Female sex workers (FSWs) are vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and encounter socio-economic and health problems, including STIs/HIV, unintended pregnancy and complications from unsafe abortion, stigma, violence, and drug addiction. Reducing risks associated with sex work requires an understanding of the social and cultural context in which sex workers live and work. This study aimed to explore the working environment and perceived risks among FSWs in Savannakhet province in Laos.
Five focus group discussions (FGDs) and seven interviews were conducted with FSWs in Kaysone Phomvihan district in Laos. Latent content analysis was used to analyze the transcribed text.
The results revealed that the FSWs were aware of risks but they also talked about benefits related to their work. The risks were grouped into six categories: STIs/HIV, unintended pregnancy, stigma, violence, being cheated, and social and economic insecurity. The reported benefits were financial security, fulfilling social obligations, and sexual pleasure. The FSWs reported using a number of strategies to reduce risks and increase benefits.
The desire to be self-sufficient and earn as much money as possible put the FSWs in disadvantaged and vulnerable situations. Fear of financial insecurity, obligations to support one’s family and the need to secure the future influenced FSWs’ decisions to have safe or unsafe sex. The FSWs were, however, not only victims. They also had some control over their lives and working environment, with most viewing their work as an easy and good way of earning money.
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