Sex work policy is a highly contentious topic. Various political approaches attempt to repress it, restrict it, or integrate it. This paper canvasses repressive approaches, restrictive approaches and the New Zealand model, which decriminalises sex work. The latter is then examined through a human rights lens, with five specific human rights discussed: the right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment, the right to safety, the right to respect for private and family life, the right to freedom of association, and the right to health. This is accompanied by an examination of how the New Zealand judiciary have used the Prostitution Reform Act 2003 and other laws to protect and promote the rights, welfare and health and safety of sex workers. The article concludes by expressing a hope that the Prostitution Reform Act 2003 and New Zealand case law can serve as precedent for other jurisdictions when considering sex work law and policy.
Kathryn McGarry, Sharron A FitzGerald: “The politics of injustice: Sex-working women, feminism and criminalizing sex purchase in Ireland”, Criminology & Criminal Justice, First Published November 24, 2017, doi.org/10.1177/1748895817743285
This article interrogates the discursive framing of recent law and policy debates on criminalizing sex purchase in Ireland and the implications this has for sex workers’ political voice. Drawing on Nancy Fraser’s work on the political dimensions of justice, we look at how Irish neo-abolitionists, through their Turn Off the Red Light (TORL) campaign, map and delimit access to political space and consequently misframe, misrecognize and misrepresent the ‘problem’ of sex work and sex-working women. We employ the methodological framework suggested by Carol Bacchi’s What’s the Problem Represented to Be (WPR) approach to explore how TORL campaigners exercise and manage frame-setting in law and policy contexts to deny all ‘other’ voices parity of participation in political space. We argue these misframing strategies reflect meta-political injustices of misrepresentation.
Leigh-Ann Sweeney, Sharron FitzGerald, (2017) “A case for a health promotion framework: the psychosocial experiences of female, migrant sex workers in Ireland”, International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care, https://doi.org/10.1108/IJMHSC-04-2016-0017
The purpose of this paper is to examine the barriers preventing women in prostitution from accessing co-ordinated health services in the Republic of Ireland. By examining the experiences of migrant women engaged in prostitution, the research contributes to knowledge pertaining to the psychosocial experiences of female sex workers’ access to healthcare.
Elizabeth Bernstein, “Militarized Humanitarianism Meets Carceral Feminism: The Politics of Sex, Rights, and Freedom in Contemporary Antitrafficking Campaigns,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 36, no. 1 (Autumn 2010): 45-71.
Over the past decade, abolitionist feminist and evangelical Christian activists have directed increasing attention toward the “traffic in women” as a dangerous manifestation of global gender inequalities. Despite renowned disagreements around the politics of sex and gender, these groups have come together to advocate for harsher penalties against traffickers, prostitutes’ customers, and nations deemed to be taking insufficient steps to stem the flow of trafficked women. In this essay, I argue that what has served to unite this coalition of “strange bedfellows” is not simply an underlying commitment to conservative ideals of sexuality, as previous commentators have offered, but an equally significant commitment to carceral paradigms of justice and to militarized humanitarianism as the preeminent mode of engagement by the state. I draw upon my ongoing ethnographic research with feminist and evangelical antitrafficking movement leaders to argue that the alliance that has been so efficacious in framing contemporary antitrafficking politics is the product of two historically unique and intersecting trends: a rightward shift on the part of many mainstream feminists and other secular liberals away from a redistributive model of justice and toward a politics of incarceration, coincident with a leftward sweep on the part of many younger evangelicals toward a globally oriented social justice theology. In the final section of this essay, I consider the resilience of these trends given a newly installed and more progressive Obama administration, positing that they are likely to continue even as the terrain of militarized humanitarian action shifts in accordance with new sets of geopolitical interests.
The expansion of the global sex industry in recent years has emerged as an important national and international policy concern and has also become the subject of considerable academic interest. Spanning a variety of social science disciplines such as sociology, cultural studies, economics, anthropology and geography, there is now a rich and diverse literature on the political economy of prostitution, pornography and sex trafficking. This scholarship has not only contributed a wealth of empirical data on the scope and nature of the global sex trade but has also generated profound theoretical insights into the structure of power relations on an international scale. As authors such as Andreas, Bhattacharyya and Ryner have argued, the illicit and illegal economy is intimately related to, not separable from, the functioning of the ‘formal’ global economy and yet unprotected workers remain both politically marginalized and economically vulnerable. For Federici, the sex industry – one of the key non-legal forms of revenue aside from the drugs and arms trades – is a ‘paradigmatic case’ for understanding both how the international political economy impacts upon unprotected workers and how their status and interests are represented in contemporary political debates.
It is perhaps surprising, then, that within the field of International Political Economy little attention has been devoted to commercial sex – as a number of feminist scholars have noted. In part, this reflects a continued preoccupation in mainstream IPE with the ‘upper circuits’ of capital relations (trade, financial markets, capital flows) rather than the ‘lower circuits’ (domestic labour, janitorial/custodial work, tourism and sex work). More fundamentally, feminist scholars have pointed to a tendency to discursively position certain types of work on the ‘outside’ rather than the ‘inside’ of globalisation and capitalism – and hence beyond the ‘proper’ analysis of IPE. In particular, as Gillian Youngs notes, mainstream IPE has tended to be underpinned by a number of binaries and oppositions such as state/market, domestic/international, institutional/individual and public/private. Crucially, this has enabled certain forms of labour to, in effect, be written out of the analysis of IPE – including commercial sex, which has been marginalized due to its association with the ‘private’ sphere of sexuality rather than the ‘public’ sphere of work. Feminist scholars have thus called for IPE to focus more on the ‘reproductive economy’ (i.e. the feminised and private realm of emotional, leisure, caring and sexual labour) as opposed to the ‘productive economy’ (i.e. those forms of work associated with primary, secondary and tertiary production). Within this context, the sex industry has emerged as an important case study in a feminist project not only to render women’s lives more visible in IPE but also to re-map the conceptual and empirical terrain of IPE itself.
In this essay I offer a review of recent literature on commercial sex, focusing my discussion on four key books that each place commercial sex centre-stage within the broader analysis of global power relations. While not all situate themselves within (or, indeed, engage explicitly with) IPE as a discipline, each is nevertheless directly concerned with the extent to and ways in which the sex industry reflects and exacerbates the structural hierarchies of global capitalism. However, as I shall outline, the four books nevertheless come from rather different theoretical and normative starting-points and thus offer a variety of competing interpretations of the meanings(s) and practice(s) of commercial sex within a global context. In particular, there is significant debate as to whether the global sexual economy can ever represent a site of resistance to power relations or whether, alternatively, it is where global inequalities are felt most acutely.
Kimberly Kay Hoang, “Competing Technologies of Embodiment: Pan-Asian Modernity and Third World Dependency in Vietnam’s Contemporary Sex Industry”. Gender & Society, Vol 28, Issue 4, pp. 513-536 (2014).
This article illustrates how the circulation of capital and culture in Asia produces divergent embodied gendered ideals of national belonging through the case of Vietnam’s global sex industry. Introducing the concept of competing technologies of embodiment, I show how sex workers’ surgical and cosmetic bodily projects represent different perceptions of an emerging nation’s divergent trajectories in the global economy. In a high-end niche market that caters to local elite Vietnamese businessmen, sex workers project a new pan-Asian modernity highlighting emergent Asian ideals of beauty in a project of progress that signals the rise of Asia. Women who cater to Western men, in contrast, embody Third World dependency, portraying Vietnam as a poverty-stricken country in need of Western charity. By comparing multiple markets, I illustrate how individual agents in the developing world actively reimagine their nation’s place in the global economy through their embodied practices.
In this essay I will discuss corporeal entrepreneurialism in the context of commercial sex and neoliberal agency at the United States–Mexico border. I want to situate the sex trade in a larger neoliberal context of economic need, mobility, and commercialization. The essay addresses how bodily entrepreneurialism can function as a gateway to upward social mobility and how erotic capital can level existing social and economic inequalities and thus act as a catalyst to exit marginalized communities. I am drawing on Wacquant’s (1995) work on corporeal entrepreneurs and also on the notion of bodily capital that he has developed therein. Using bodily capital in the context of sex work, it makes sense to talk more specifically about erotic capital, which is the primary currency in the sex trade. Thus, I will integrate Isaiah Green’s (2008) definition of erotic capital and elaborate how women make use of their bodies to enhance their erotic capital and explain what their strategies and perceptions are. Inspired by Alexander Edmonds’ (2007) work on beauty and race in Brazil, I will elaborate how corporeal entrepreneurs strategically use their bodily and erotic capital to counteract their socioeconomic marginalization and challenge traditional hierarchies. As will become clear, corporeal entrepreneurialism ties together women’s agency, market demand, and monetary value, and, to succeed, this endeavor requires enormous levels of discipline, emotional resilience, management skills, stamina, and purposefulness.