How do vulnerable populations engage with politics? And what does politics mean to them? Building on four months of ethnographic fieldwork and 15 semistructured interviews with sex workers in Kropyvnyts’kyi, Ukraine, I show how informal political practices are employed by marginalised groups like sex workers to promote their agenda of the normalisation of sex work. Examining sex workers’ activism in Ukraine through empowerment strategies and resistance politics, I enquire about formal and informal political strategies that sex workers resort to, how these strategies are used, and whether informal political practices can lead to the community’s empowerment. With a focus primarily on street sex workers who are engaged in community organisation, I show how a controversial topic such as sex can be utilised by sex workers to attract attention to their marginalised situation and politicise their activism. Complicating the discussion of politics and political participation by viewing it through the lens of feminist anthropology, this paper attempts to contribute to the discussion about women’s empowerment and to expand the category of “political practice” and “political activism.” This paper concludes that Kropyvnyts’kyi sex workers often resort to small-scale political tactics in order to probe the limits of political possibility.
Hoefinger, Heidi, Jennifer Musto, P. G. Macioti, Anne E. Fehrenbacher, Nicola Mai, Calum Bennachie, and Calogero Giametta. 2020. ‘Community-Based Responses to Negative Health Impacts of Sexual Humanitarian Anti-Trafficking Policies and the Criminalization of Sex Work and Migration in the US’. Social Sciences 9 (1): 1. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci9010001.
System-involvement resulting from anti-trafficking interventions and the criminalization of sex work and migration results in negative health impacts on sex workers, migrants, and people with trafficking experiences. Due to their stigmatized status, sex workers and people with trafficking experiences often struggle to access affordable, unbiased, and supportive health care. This paper will use thematic analysis of qualitative data from in-depth interviews and ethnographic fieldwork with 50 migrant sex workers and trafficked persons, as well as 20 key informants from legal and social services, in New York and Los Angeles. It will highlight the work of trans-specific and sex worker–led initiatives that are internally addressing gaps in health care and the negative health consequences that result from sexual humanitarian anti-trafficking interventions that include policing, arrest, court-involvement, court-mandated social services, incarceration, and immigration detention. Our analysis focuses on the impact of criminalization on sex workers and their experiences with sexual humanitarian efforts intended to protect and control them. We argue that these grassroots community-based efforts are a survival-oriented reaction to the harms of criminalization and a response to vulnerabilities left unattended by mainstream sexual humanitarian approaches to protection and service provision that frame sex work itself as the problem. Peer-to-peer interventions such as these create solidarity and resiliency within marginalized communities, which act as protective buffers against institutionalized systemic violence and the resulting negative health outcomes. Our results suggest that broader public health support and funding for community-led health initiatives are needed to reduce barriers to health care resulting from stigma, criminalization, and ineffective anti-trafficking and humanitarian efforts. We conclude that the decriminalization of sex work and the reform of institutional practices in the US are urgently needed to reduce the overall negative health outcomes of system-involvement. View Full-Text
As anti-trafficking social service providers (SSPs) facilitate the process of victim recovery and empowerment, they also participate in the dissemination of trafficking-related knowledge to the general public. Drawing on a feminist postcolonial framework, this study sought to examine how anti-trafficking SSPs represent trafficking victims in written narratives published on their organizational websites. Thirty-three narratives were drawn from the websites of 10 New York–based anti-trafficking SSPs. Despite the widespread adoption of a strength-based term, “survivor,” the narratives were found to reinforce a gendered and racialized representation of trafficking victims as sex trafficked women from the “global South” and to (re)produce many “ideal” trafficking victim stereotypes that have been dominating the current discourses of trafficking. A “life transformation” discourse was pervasive, discursively foregrounding the positive impact of the SSPs on trafficking survivors. The findings suggested a need for anti-trafficking SSPs to engage with critical reflection on their positionality and intentionality in representing trafficking victims/survivors and to adopt a survivor-led storytelling paradigm. This study also provided a timely reminder for social work practitioners and researchers to continue to challenge the dominant narratives embedded in their fields of practice, to exercise critical self-reflexivity, and to provide a discursive space for those who have been deprived of voices.
The last decade has seen an expansion in initiatives promoting the development of special sex services oriented to people with disabilities, which in Europe are increasingly labelled ‘sexual assistance’. These have become the object of political and media attention, and arguably call for a critical analysis incorporating both disability and sex workers’ rights perspectives. Based on an 18-month embedded participant observation, I explore the case of a grassroots organisation which brings together sexual assistants, disabled activists and (potential) clients, and their allies in Switzerland. Opposing ‘therapy’, ‘charity’, and ‘care’ approaches to sexual assistance, members of this organisation work within their own model of ‘ethical’ services. While they place sexual pleasure at the centre of this approach, in practice, they promote forms of self-regulation aimed at limiting the risks of sex services, connected in particular to intimate violence, stigmatisation, sex normativity, and the role of intermediaries. Clearly rooted in a disability rights perspective, this grassroots initiative does not only concern sexual assistance but more largely sex services. In this sense, this study invites us to look at sexual assistance as an interesting space for alliance between sex workers’ rights and the rights of people with disabilities, as a uniquely politicised group of (potential) clients.
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.
The article, based on policy analysis, institutional interviews and community fieldwork, looks at why children in prostitution and victims of trafficking remain practically without state support and institutional assistance. It also explores to what extent the decriminalisation of the system assisting child victims of prostitution and trafficking, or the shift from the ‘punishment’ to the ‘welfare model’, has taken place. The ethnic aspect of the problem is addressed as well given that the majority of victims are of Roma origin. While Hungary has ratified all important international conventions that oblige the country to protect child victims, neither its policies and legislation nor its institutions including child protection, law enforcement and the judiciary, seem to have adequate structural frameworks and institutional practices to attend to these children and prosecute offenders. Policy gaps, institutional procedures and practices are identified and it is concluded that the country is still much closer to the ‘punishment model’.