This contribution examines how feminist economists have conceptualized sex work and trafficking through the lens of agency and stigma. The ongoing debate about legalization has focused on sex workers’ agency and choice, and on the role of stigma in shaping the supply of and demand for sex work. Building on the analysis advanced by contributions to this special issue, this study contends that theoretical and policy debates about sex work are dominated by false dichotomies of agency and stigma. It argues that the relationship between stigma and agency operates along a continuum of contractual arrangements that underpins a high degree of segmentation in the industry. The higher the stigma, the lower tends to be the agency. Current policies toward sex work therefore need reconsideration – especially mounting support for criminalization of clients, which, by increasing stigma, is likely to detract from the agency and the well-being of sex workers, however unintentionally.
Mary Jane Hayes was a “deviant” woman—a “drunken prostitute” who was in and out of both the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum and Fremantle Prison from 1871 to 1898. One of twelve women in the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum records to have been referred to as a prostitute, Mary Jane was particularly reviled: her alcohol consumption and unsavoury lifestyle were often blamed as the cause of her violent behaviour and insanity. Prison and asylum records reveal several arrests for drunkenness and vagrancy, with an estimated 67 convictions; newspaper articles also depict her numerous convictions for indecent behaviour, obscene language and larceny. Mary Jane Hayes’s contact with both the asylum and prison, as well as her mentions in newspapers, allows for an archival and media content examination of late 19th-century Fremantle society and its treatment of deviant women who fell into the category of moral insanity: madness caused by a moral failing, especially alcohol and sex. This article will make a wider contribution to colonial Australian history, particularly the history of Fremantle, by developing a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of women and moral insanity in the late 19th century.
The “pussy patrols” in academia are the economic, discursive, sexual, and epistemological forms of violence in academia that control, silence, and reroute all femmes—not just cis women—in higher education. Although feminists have long examined sexual harassment in educational and occupational spaces, very few have turned their attention to the specific, embodied experiences of sex-working academics. Employing “epistemic disobedience” and “Critical Life Story” interviewing methodologies, I look at the experiences of thirteen sex-working academics, including my own experiences as a sex-working undergraduate and graduate student. I disrupt the false dichotomy of empowerment/oppression in the sex industry; I ask if higher education is necessarily emancipatory; and I offer suggestions, based on the forced rerouting and silencing of sex-working academics, for moving forward as activist-academics. Indeed, the time for rebelling against the strict academic codes that rely on Cartesian dualism is now.
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.
This article explores the understudied and undertheorized role that fiscal policies play in shaping the relationship between the state and sex workers. It highlights the importance of looking at tax policy and its implementation to understand how inequality is reinforced against sexually marginalized populations. Drawing on the Italian case, it explores the ways in which ambiguous taxation arrangements operate to penalize sex workers, excluding them from the status of full taxpayer citizenship, and demonizing them as individuals who exploit the fiscal system at the expense of “good” tax-paying citizens. Fiscal policies, I argue, need to be considered in the context of the governance of prostitution as social mechanisms that have the potential to contribute to the sexual and economic citizenship of this marginalized population, but which, when unequal and ambiguous, reinforce the social and political liminality of sex workers as lesser citizens, and add to the stigma, damaging stereotypes and violence already waged against them. The complex ways in which inequality against sex workers is maintained is revealed as a dynamic process that reflects the ever-shifting interplay of economics and morality.
This research used a semi-structured interview method and Smith and Osborn’s (2003) interpretive phenomenological analysis to investigate a female prostitute’s experiences of stigma associated with her work. To structure the interview schedule, Seidman’s (2006) in-depth phenomenologically based interviewing method, which comprises three areas of focus, “focused life history,” “details of the experience” under investigation, and “reflection of the meaning” of the experience, was used as a general guide. Ten broad psychological themes were identified: 1) awareness of engaging in what people think is bad; (2) negative labeling by people who discover she is a prostitute; 3) hiding and lying about her identity as a prostitute to avoid being labeled negatively; 4) hiding and lying about her prostitution identity result in stress, anxiety, and exhaustion; 5) wishing she did not have to hide and lie about being a prostitute; 6) questioning and objecting to the stigmatization of prostitution; 7) managing the sense of stigmatization by persons who know about her prostitution by shifting focus away from devaluing and toward valuable qualities of prostitution; 8) developing occupational esteem and self-esteem through reflection of values; 9) compassion towards other people who suffer from stigma; and 10) resiliency.
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While the scholarship on sex work is substantial, it neglects to explore whether sex work and associated stigma affect sex workers’ cognitive expectations. Drawing on observations of street-based sex work as well as in-depth interviews with Jewish-Israeli sex workers, this study suggests that because stigma is a moral experience that threatens and often destroys what really matters to stigmatised individuals, it leads to recurrent disappointments, which, in turn, may alter sex workers’ cognitive expectations. Sex workers learn to see certain life goals, including maintaining healthy social relationships and a workspace free of violence and humiliation, as unobtainable. However, they also begin to see other aspects of their lives, such as economic autonomy, as achievable through sex work. Tracing how whore stigma becomes a transformative experience allows us to add another layer to the heretofore suggested link between the structural, cultural and individual aspects of stigmatisation.