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
Connell, Kieran. ‘PROS: The Programme for the Reform of the Law on Soliciting, 1976–1982’. Twentieth Century British History. November 2019. https://doi.org/10.1093/tcbh/hwz032.
In the late 1970s, a campaign was mounted to reform the legal landscape faced by sex workers, which had remained unaltered since a series of recommendations made in the Wolfenden Report were implemented by the government two decades earlier. While Wolfenden is commonly associated with the arrival of Britain’s ‘permissive’ 1960s, when it came to the issue of prostitution, it helped usher in even more restrictive conditions for sex workers. This article looks at attempts to challenge this status quo by focusing on the Programme for the Reform of the Law on Soliciting (PROS), which was founded in Birmingham in 1976 and became one of the most visible groups advocating for a change in the law. Its activities culminated with the 1982 Criminal Justice Act, which ostensibly abandoned the policy of imprisoning prostitutes on soliciting offences. The case of PROS, I argue, offers a further reminder of the afterlife of the liberalizing ethos associated with the 1960s. Moreover, it provides a different way of engaging with a historical conjuncture more commonly associated with themes such as rising individualism, the fragmentation of left-wing activism, and the arrival of Thatcherism.
The use of selfies as a political tool is critical to the form, shape and expression of online activist networks. In the trending Twitter #FacesOfProstitution, such self-presenting practices challenged the prevailing politics of anonymity around sex work and articulated new modes of political organizing, agency and information dissemination within a networked online community. Analysing the sex worker online campaign using feminist materialist approaches to the body this interdisciplinary article contributes to current discussions about selfies and embodied forms of activism in online spaces and addresses a gap in sex advocacy literature on digital protest cultures.
What does it mean to be an African sex worker feminist? In answering this question this essay draws from two qualitative studies with two African sex worker groups in 2014 and 2015—the South African movement of sex workers called Sisonke, and the African Sex Worker Alliance (ASWA). Although participants were initially reluctant to give a precise definition, many pointed to elements that could constitute such an identity. Based on their embodied lived experiences, each participant illustrated and described what it meant for them to be an African, a sex worker, and a feminist, and then collectively discussed these in relation to each other and the social dimensions they occupy. Even though these three identities may seem incongruent, in certain embodiments they actually inform each other. The aim of this work is for all feminists to recognize each other as comrades in the struggle for gender and sexual liberation, thus strengthening solidarity across social justice movements.
Fifteen years ago, Timothy Gilfoyle published a lengthy essay devoted to the history of prostitution in the American Historical Review. He observed that in the last quarter of the twentieth century, historians complicated the history of prostitution “in ways unanticipated a generation ago.”1 As the six books reviewed here demonstrate, innovation in the history of sex work continues. Historians are now studying “up” rather than “down,” concentrating on brothel madams and luxury establishments rather than streetwalkers and street solicitation. Scholars today point to changing patterns of consumption and leisure (including tourism), rather than altered labor relations (like industrialization) to explain changes in the sex trade. Historians now importantly address previously neglected issues like colonialism, state building, and race to produce a more complex picture of the sex worker of the past and her business.
. Historically, academic literature on sex work has documented the changing debates, policies, and cultural discourse surrounding the sex industry, and their impact on the rights of sex workers worldwide. As sex work scholars look to the future of sex workers’ rights, however, we are also in a critical moment of self-reflection on how sex work scholarship engages with sex worker communities, produces knowledge surrounding sex work, and represents the lived experiences of sex workers’ rights, organizing, and activism. In this short Communication, proceedings from a recent sex work research symposium entitled, Sexual Economies, Politics, and Positionality in Sex Work Research are presented. Held at the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University, this symposium is a response to the need for sex work researchers, sex workers, and sex worker-led organizations to come together and critically examine the future of research on sex work and the politics of documenting sex workers’ rights.
This paper aims to identify the reasons why sex workers strike/occupy churches comparing the sex workers strikes/church occupations in France (1975) and the UK (1982). In order to understand why “sex workers” strike, the paper briefly introduces the available literature on why workers strike. Noting the differences between workers’ and sex workers’ strikes, the former usually being unionised and the latter being nonunionised, and with the latter’s emphasis on non-material rather than material interests, the paper also explores theories on new social movements, collective action and contentious politics. With these theoretical discussions in mind, the events leading to the sex workers’ strikes/church occupations in France and the UK are briefly described. After this description, the paper presents a comparative analysis of the reasons underlying the two cases of strike/church occupation. The research question is answered in this paper. The basic argument is that despite the fact that France has a more closed, and the UK has a more open political input structure, the reasons underlying sex workers’ strikes/church occupations are similar and that sex workers’ strikes were part of the general strike wave in Europe. In both cases, the available repertoire of action was exhausted before going on strike. The basic actors in both cases were the police, the law, politicians, organised crime, pimps and sex workers themselves. In both cases, the choice of church occupation as a form of action was inherited from other social movements and was a strategic rather than a symbolic choice. The main difference between the two cases is that the sex workers that struck in the UK was more organised than their French counterparts. While the strikers in France had the Nid as their ally while those in the UK had Black Women for wages for housework and women against rape. The basic argument is that sex workers in these two cases struck due to an amalgamation of material and non-material interests. It calls for the amalgamation of Marxist, feminist, new social movements, social movements and collective action theories to set up an analytical framework to study sex workers’ strikes. In order to refrain from eclecticism while doing so, the paper suggests going to the field. In conclusion, the paper also touches upon the factors that should be taken into account before continuing strikes as a form of action for the state’s recognition of sex work as work, and the extension of social, economic and political rights to sex workers.
This article introduces the concept of abnormativity as way of theorizing the realities of subjects who suffer from marginalization and/or erasure, specifically sex workers. It then develops livability as a playbook of political action which attends to the abnormative lives of sex workers by balancing resistance to institutionalized forms of marginalization with queer critical approaches to heteronormativity. It proposes this framework as suitable for frontline sex-worker support projects, outlining the limitations and benefits of three ethico-political models that aim to address the conditions of abnormativity: the politics of recognition, intersectional recognition, and critical intelligibility. It argues that each of these models is insufficient on its own, but that intersectional recognition and critical intelligibility can be mobilized productively together as the politics of livability.