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. ….
This article explores the discursive and practical entanglements of women’s work and sex trafficking, in Britain and internationally, in the early twentieth century. It examines discussions about trafficking and women’s work during a period that was instrumental in codifying modern, international conceptions of ‘trafficking’ and argues that porous and faulty borders were drawn between sex work, women’s licit work, and their sexual exploitation and their exploitation as workers. These borders were at their thinnest in discussions about two very important sectors of female-dominated migrant labour: domestic and care work, and work in the entertainment industry. The anti-trafficking movement, the international labour movement, and the makers of national laws and policies, attempted to separate sexual labour from other forms of labour. In doing so, they wilfully ignored or suppressed moments when they obviously intersected, and downplayed the role of other exploited and badly-paid licit work that sustained the global economy. But these attempts were rarely successful: despite the careful navigations of international and British officials, work continued to find its way back into discussions of sex trafficking, and sex trafficking remained entangled with the realities of women’s work.
Sex work, broadly defined as the exchange of sexual intimacy for something of value, has become a popular subject of academic interrogation in the past two decades. Scholarly studies on the subject frequently document the lives of marginalized individuals who employ the strategic use of sex or sexualized attention as a means to survive or, less frequently, to attain social mobility. While it is difficult to make generalizations about the nuanced and individualized nature of transactional sex, the literature on the subject has surmounted this difficulty by alternately embracing and contesting major trends in feminist scholarship itself. ….
This book resets the agenda on sex trafficking. Methodologically daring, it brings poststructuralist approaches on migration, labour and political subjectivities to existing studies on European integration, labour markets and gender-based violence. By linking a number of scholarly debates and discursive areas that are not commonly brought together in studies on sex trafficking, this study sets out to expose the link between sex trafficking and the constitution of citizenship, and advance a scholarly re-conceptualization of ‘sex trafficking’ grounded in the particularity of the European situation. Based on original ethnographic interviews with migrant women in the sex sector, the book shifts the theorization of sex trafficking away from the criminalization paradigm and towards a new theory of agency and citizenship.