Hwang, Maria Cecilia. “Offloaded: Women’s Sex Work Migration across the South China Sea and the Gendered Antitrafficking Emigration Policy of the Philippines.” WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly 45, no. 1 (April 9, 2017): 131–47.
Adelle had just arrived from the Philippines for a short visit in Hong Kong when I met her in the summer of 2011. I soon learned that since 2006 Adelle has been making regular visits to Hong Kong, where she travels as a tourist and works as an independent sex worker in nightclubs frequented by male expatriates and business travelers from western countries. A single mother in her late thirties, Adelle’s primary source of income is prostitution. For her, the ability to migrate across the South China Sea affords her an economic mobility otherwise denied in the Philippines; and expanding her markets to include Macao and Singapore—extending her time in multiple Asian countries—enables her to further maximize the rewards of her sexual labor. Typically Adelle traverses the South China Sea between Hong Kong, Singapore, and Macao for about three to four and a half months before returning to the Philippines. While she finds migrating [End Page 131] as a tourist stressful, she also relishes that she is her own boss and is able to control certain elements of her migration and labor, including going home to her son regularly. Despite such control over her migration, in recent years Adelle has faced increasing restrictions on her ability to work overseas because the Philippine government considers migrant women workers like her vulnerable to human trafficking.
In this article, I describe the migration of freelance or independent sex workers like Adelle and examine the impacts of the Philippine government’s efforts to control their ability to cross borders. I analyze the effects of the antitrafficking policy of “offloading” which prevents suspected victims of human trafficking, illegal recruitment, and undocumented workers from leaving the country. I argue that a “masculinist logic of protection” (Young 2003), coupled with gendered and classed assumptions about migrant vulnerability, undergirds this policy. I illustrate how the antitrafficking policy of offloading evinces the state’s logic of “benevolent paternalism,” which is defined by Rhacel Parreñas (2008) as the culture of restricting migrant women’s freedom purportedly for their own best interest. My discussion establishes that even though the campaign against human trafficking is considered a critical global feminist project (Doezema 2010), gendered antitrafficking emigration policies may have the contradictory effects of limiting women’s freedom of movement. ….