This article examines the effects of rumors within the Mexican and U.S. governments’ militarized war on drugs. Focusing on a period during which Mexican drug organizations were strengthened and violence increased, the article follows the lives of Mexican sex workers and their clients, as well as American missionaries living in a prostitution zone in Reynosa, Tamaulipas. Borders between narco-controlled and state-controlled territory were shifted in and through the bodies of Reynosa’s residents as a contagion of performative rumors came to occupy la zona. As residents told or listened to stories about torture and murder at the hands of narcos, their perceived vulnerability increased and fear came to predominate. In this article I theorize how rumors of violence shaped affective atmospheres of terror and altered spatial practices in a drug-war zone. Feelings of bodily risk first affected vulnerable populations and later spread to people who had previously felt secure in border zones. These narco-stories not only circulated terror but also allowed people to achieve intimacy and maintain social bonds through the shared experience of terror.
Drawing upon over a decade of research in our respective communities, we argue that the intergenerational socioeconomic insecurities and violence prevalent in the lives of North American street-involved women, their families, and others in their social circles constitute a set of shared precarities. Taking both socioinstitutional and interpersonal forms, shared precarities obviate the women’s rights to access the lived experience and social status of motherhood. Yet they also engender maternal subjectivities reflective of the ambivalence, temporal ambiguity, and interconnections between family and state structures that characterize the women’s child custody arrangements. These maternal subjectivities, and the shared precarities that give rise to them, emphasize how individual members of marginalized communities cope with violence generated by the legitimation of particular family forms and devaluation/criminalization of others.
In recent years, many European countries, including Italy, have witnessed an increasing penalisation of uncivil (anti-social or nuisance) behaviour at the local level (Peršak, 2017b; Selmini and Crawford, 2017). In England and Wales, Belgium and Italy, this has been the result of the enactment at the national level of vague legislative provisions, which have entrusted local authorities with enhanced powers in the area of urban safety and security (Di Ronco and Peršak, 2014). Local authorities have used their increased public order powers to target a wide range of behaviour, which they considered to be “anti-social”, a “nuisance” or a “threat” to public safety and urban security (Di Ronco and Peršak, 2014). This behaviour also included the nuisance caused by street prostitution. Punitive measures against street prostitutes and their clients have been taken at the local level, for example, in England and Wales, where Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) were issued against street sex workers and clients until 2014 (see Sagar, 2007, 2010; Scoular and O’Neill, 2007). In addition, administrative sanctions have been imposed in Spain (Villacampa, 2017), as well as in Belgium and Italy (Di Ronco, 2014).
An exploratory/descriptive study of 33 migrant Hungarian prostitutes who travel to Switzerland for sex work was conducted in Zurich by Hungarian social workers in cooperation with Swiss social workers. A new methodology (Hungarian Street Work Interpersonal Support) was developed to compare support networks both at home and while working abroad. Vulnerability and potential risk were mapped, finding networks at ‘home’ being supportive and non-risky with the opposite occurring ‘abroad’. Little use was made of protective relationships (police and social workers) in both locations. The primary motivation for engaging in migrant sex work was to provide for their children at home.