The Spiked of Review Books
A review of Laura Agustín´s book "Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry". She writes that "the lack of a coherent definition of the term “trafficking” has inspired an avalanche of meetings, conferences and reports all over the world’. The result: ever-more confused and contradictory statistics, and a situation where migrant labour is increasingly viewed with suspicion, indeed, seen almost as criminal by definition". April 2008.
Talking about migrant sex work is no easy task. First of all, we have to decide whether we talk about ‘prostitution’ or ‘sex work’. On the whole issue - including this apparently trivial question of terminology - the different actors involved do not agree at all.
There are two main positions, one represented by abolitionists and the other by sex workers' advocates. The first view is exemplified by certain feminist NGOs, such as the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. According to this organization, “prostitution must be recognized not only as part but as a foundation of the larger system of patriarchal subordination of women”. They denounce “patriarchal capitalism” for driving women, through social, political and economical imbalances, into the sex trade. There is no choice whatsoever for the women involved. Furthermore, prostitution “reinforces gender disparities of rights and status”.
They strongly resist the term ‘sex work’. They point out that this debate is “no mere semantic quarrel”, since if prostitution is recognized as a legitimate form of labour, that removes it as an issue from the violence-against-women agenda. They strongly criticize NGOs that claim that this terminology dignifies prostitutes. They argue that it “doesn’t dignify the sex worker; all it dignifies is the sex industry - the pimps, procurers and traffickers. […] The term “sex work” doesn’t convey the exploitation of trafficking and prostitution”.
With respect to legislation, abolitionists seek the decriminalization of prostitution. They criticize repressive policies against prostitutes, but promote the prosecution of customers and pimps, who are to blame for the exploitation of women. They oppose regulationist systems that control prostitution through zoning, licensing and, in some cases, mandatory health checks. They say that it promotes the illegal trafficking of women into regulationist countries. Some abolitionist NGOs aim to rescue women from prostitution and train them to find alternative careers or security in marriage.
Advocates of sex workers' rights defend a different view of prostitution. According to this group sex work (be it migrant or not) is not always forced. They challenge the traditional conception of female prostitutes as victims and men as clients/exploiters. The activist and researcher Laura Agustín recognizes that the majority of sex workers are still women, but highlights the fact that the number or transgender and male prostitutes is rising. She also adds that customers are not only men but also women and transgenders.
The key point, sex workers' advocates argue, is to distinguish whether sex work is forced or not. They recognize that there are people who are forced without their consent into the sex trade, through violence and threats, but, as Agustín puts it, “many, many migrants doing sexual jobs do not describe themselves as 'forced' or as having no other options in life. They may well have fewer options, or fewer agreeable options, than some other people, but they have them. Moreover, among those who suffer from poverty, bad marriages and the entire array of possible root factors, not everyone opts for sex work, just as not everyone opts to migrate. Theories of determinism cannot account for the human phenomenon of choice, while every choice is influenced by questions of class, gender, ethnicity, economic level and present social conditions (war, dictatorship, famine, violence, unemployment, etc). Actions occur within geopolitical and economic structures and dynamics.”
Sex work advocates recognize the advantages in sex work (flexibility in working hours, the possibility of earning cash and bring it home the same day in the case of street prostitution, among others) and disadvantages, most of them due to its clandestine character (lack of social security and protection in case of violence, or exploitative practices by pimps or brothel owners).
Regarding legislation, sex work groups seek decriminalization of all aspects of prostitution. They argue that if customers are prosecuted, their work will be more risky since it will be even more clandestine.
As for the migrant dimension of sex work, the two perspectives summarized above also have opposing views. Abolitionists state that the distinction between prostitution and trafficking is used “to make some forms of prostitution acceptable and legitimate, revising the harm that is done to women in prostitution into a consenting act and excluding prostitution from the category of violence against women”.
UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Radhika Coomaraswamy, stated otherwise in a report on Trafficking. According to her, it is “the non-consensual nature of trafficking that distinguishes it from other forms of migration […] At the heart of this distinction is the issue of consent.” She also comments on the work of some NGOs that promote the rescue of women working in brothels: “some women’s organizations are fuelled by a moral imperative of ‘saving’ innocent women. Thus, some programmes derive from the perception that women need to be ‘rescued and rehabilitated’, rather than supported and granted rights”.
Her report quotes a sex workers’ manifesto in an effort to give them a voice: “charity organizations are prone to rescue us and put us in ‘safe’ homes, developmental organizations are likely to ‘rehabilitate’ us through meagre income generation activities, and the police seem bent upon to regularly raid our quarters in the name of controlling ‘immoral’ trafficking. Even when we are inscribed less negatively or even sympathetically within dominant discourses we are not exempt from stigmatization or social exclusion”.
Sex workers’ rights activists are concerned about abuse of women migrant sex workers, but they link this more to government anti-immigration policies than to the inherent exploitative nature of prostitution. If women are working illegally, they cannot denounce any kind of violence or ill treatment, since they will be instantly deported. According to the Special Rapporteur’s report, the law-and-order approach adopted by governments to combat trafficking are “often at odds with the protection of human rights and may create or exacerbate existing situations that cause or contribute to trafficking in women” .
The issue of trafficking has been on the international agenda since the late nineteenth century. The first United Nations convention that addressed trafficking was the 1949 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. This instrument reflected the abolitionist approach, stating that "...prostitution (is) incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person…” and it prosecutes pimps and other third parties.
More than fifty years later, another instrument was approved within the scope of the United Nations: The Protocol to Combat International Trafficking in Women and Children Supplementary to the Convention on Transnational Organized Crimes (2000). Although it has been acknowledged that it provided the first definition of traffic, the Human Rights Caucus stated that the Protocol would “do almost nothing to protect the rights of trafficked persons who do not become witnesses”. Another criticism voiced is that this complex issue has been addressed in an instrument designed to combat crime rather than as a human rights treaty.
The Network of Sex Work Project states that “rather than developing measures which might reduce the risks faced by specific groups, the Protocol proposes punitive, anti-immigration measures that confuse the 'perpetrators' and 'victims' of trafficking and focuses exclusively on illegal documentation instead of violence, deception and human rights abuses”. They also point out that the focus on women and children leaves aside men and transgender persons who are also vulnerable and need human rights protection.
An International Labour Organization report published in 1998 got a warmer reception among sex workers' advocates. “The Sex Sector: The Economic and Social Bases of Prostitution in Southeast Asia” was considered “progressive and humane” and “a victory for diversity”. It acknowledges the sex industry’s great contribution to the region’s economies and calls on governments to recognize it as just another income-generating activity. This would imply the extension of labour and social rights to sex workers, including health protection against HIV/AIDS.
A review of Laura Agustín´s book "Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry". She writes that "the lack of a coherent definition of the term “trafficking” has inspired an avalanche of meetings, conferences and reports all over the world’. The result: ever-more confused and contradictory statistics, and a situation where migrant labour is increasingly viewed with suspicion, indeed, seen almost as criminal by definition".
"Poverty, gender and human trafficking in Sub-Saharan Africa" is the ﬁrst publication of the UNESCO Poverty series. This series intends to provide food for thought in understanding poverty as a human rights issue and in proposing paths for action through scientiﬁc research on contemporary issues. It tries to unpack the interconnectedness between human trafﬁcking and poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, based on a critical analysis of migration processes in relation to human rights abuse.
The re-emergence of the myth of 'white slavery' in contemporary discourses of 'trafficking in women'. "Women who migrate for the sex industry can only be freed from violations of their human rights if they are first freed of their mythical constraints. They must no longer be used as the canvas upon which societies' fears and anxieties are projected; be defined no longer as innocent, sexless, 'non-adults' or as the oppressed sex of backward countries; but as agents endowed with the ability to think, to act and to resist".
The debate over "prostitution" in Western feminism has been going on for many years, but recent demographic development in Europe have led to its intensification, giving rise to an enormous production of writings, conferences and policy recommendations.
The strong demand for women's domestic, caring, and sexual labor in contemporary Europe promotes migrations from many parts of the world. "The moral panic over trafficking and the limited feminist debate on "prostitution" contribute to a climate that ignores the social problems of the majority of women migrants". This article examines the history of concepts that marginalize these as unproductive services (and not really "work") and questions why the West accepts the smifeudal conditions and lack of regulations pertaining to this sector. By Laura M. Agustin, pdf format. Oxford University Press.
This article states that “it is important to analyze issues affecting sex workers in ways that go beyond the traditional discourse on prostitution, trafficking and migration, which tend simply to stigmatize women as victims”. It includes a very comprehensive resource list.
The author of this article states that “many migrants doing sexual jobs do not describe themselves as 'forced' or as having no other options in life”. Some topics dealt with are: migrant sex workers, the sex market, working conditions for migrants, advantages and disadvantages of sex work, and labour proposals related to the sex industry.
The author states that the discourses that construct migrant women and transsexuals as 'trafficked' exist all over the world and are being addressed by international bodies. In this article she challenges such approaches.
This page provides links to articles related to the issue by the Sex Worker's International Media Watch Some recommended articles: “The Sex Sector: A Victory for Diversity”; “The plight of migrant women: they speak, but who's listening?”.
This document, compiled by the Initiative Against Trafficking in Persons of the International Human Rights Law Group, contains references and contacts on trafficking in human beings and organizations working on trafficking. This comprehensive resource list is organized by topic and region (doc format).
Prostitution in Southeast Asia has grown so rapidly in recent decades that the sex business has assumed the dimensions of a commercial sector, one that contributes substantially to employment and national income in the region, according to a report published by the Geneva-based International Labour Office. This page also offers an interview with Ms. Lin Lim, who directed the study.
According to this review of the ILO’s report, it is “progressive and humane”. It recommends that the sex industry be included in official government accountings, first, because of its enormous contributions to regional economies, and second, as the only way to improve the situation of those employed as sex workers.
This Protocol, that entered into force on 25 December 2003, provided the first agreed definition of trafficking: “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation”.
This was the other Optional Protocol that was open to ratifications. It entered into force on 24 January 2004. By smuggling of migrants this Protocol understands “the procurement, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, of the illegal entry of a person into a State Party of which the person is not a national or a permanent resident”
PENet is an information service about legislative and cultural issues as they effect prostitutes and other sex workers. The service is comprised of information for sex workers and activists/educators who study issues of decriminalization, human rights in the context of prostitution, violence against prostitutes and women, sex workers and pornography, as well as current trends in legislation and social policy in the U.S. and internationally.
This guide includes the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, The UN Convention Against Transnational Crime and annotations and official explanatory notes. It is a tool to assist advocates in the development of a human rights framework for national anti-trafficking laws and policies (pdf format).
In this statement several NGOs point out that “unfortunately, [the Protocol] does not require governments to provide any services to trafficked persons”. It also points out that a drawn-out and unnecessary debate over the definition of trafficking avoided discussion of the need for mandatory protections.
In this press release, among other things, some NGOs express their concern about the intention of certain states to introduce the notion of "consent to trafficking" in the additional Protocol. It also urges Governments which have not yet done so, to ratify the Convention of 1949 on the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. There are abolitionists among the signatories.
Sex-industry culture includes large numbers of people offering to help people selling sex. Outreach, a concept developed to take health products and services to hard-to-reach groups, involves complicated cultural interactions. As with others who apply governmental technologies, social figures inventing and carrying out outreach projects often justify their actions without reference to what the `needy' actually need, relying instead on discourses of solidarity, empowerment, self-esteem and social inclusion. Narratives of scenes from outreach with migrants who sell sex in Spain provide an opportunity to examine and question aspects of a social project usually considered transparently benign but which can be more than a little troublesome. 2007.
Latin America is a region lacking in work around human trafficking, although, in general, studies have become more frequent and voluminous. One aim is to bring visibility to a problem that in Latin America has been silenced and for which there is a lower level of information and fewer case studies, little social consciousness, and that is even naturalized in some poor and rural regions. November 2005.
After introducing the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW), this Fact Sheet deals with the following topics: what is trafficking, the protection of the human rights of trafficked persons, the UN trafficking protocol and its limitations, and trafficking in the Global Context. It also provides useful resources (pdf format).
Human trafficking involves the movement of people through violence, deception or coercion for the purpose of forced labour, servitude or slavery-like practices. It is the fastest growing means by which people are forced into slavery. This page provides links and resources related to the issue.
This report highlights the fact that women move and are moved, consensually and non-consensually, legally and illegally, for numerous reasons, including social, political, cultural and economic reasons. According to the Special Rapporteur, the element that distinguishes trafficking from other forms of movement is the non-consensual nature of trafficking. The report also expresses her concern that the first modern international instrument on trafficking (the 2000 Trafficking Protocol) was elaborated in the context of crime control, rather than with a focus on human rights (pdf format).
nnnSecuring prosecutions of traffickers is not the same as protecting victims' rights. This report looks at measures to protect trafficked people in Belgium, Colombia, Italy, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK and the US. It includes case studies and documents good and bad treatment by authorities. It concludes with recommendations on areas such as investigation and prosecution, residency status, protection, in-court evidentiary protection, support and assistance, and legal redress and compensation.
"Recognition of this economic sector is not identical to traditional notions of ‘regulation’ associated with commercial sex, which consider only ‘prostitution’ and arrange workplaces for the convenience of business owners, management and clientele –never workers. I agree with the International Labour Organization (ILO) that the only way to protect those employed in sex businesses is for governments to recognise their existence". 2006. See: ILO Report on Sex Sector, Lin Lean Lim, 1998)
It's the season when the United States issues its annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP). Having named sexual slavery as a particular evil to be eradicated, the United States grades other countries on how they are doing. From the standpoint of social science, the TIP is gravely faulty. It never explains how data were gathered and compared across so many languages and cultures, or who did it exactly under what circumstances. A raft of other research shows enormous diversity among people who sell sex, and a wide variety of experiences in the sex industry among both migrants and people who stay at home. Studies show that the worst kind of trafficking can happen to people doing other kinds of jobs -and to men. Women all over the world, including the poorest, repudiate being characterized as above all sexually vulnerable. July 2007.
The Network of Sex Work Projects stated, at the XIV International Conference on AIDS (Barcelona, July 2002), that “far from being a solution to the pressing problems faced by migrant sex workers, repressive policies increase vulnerability to infection and violence”.
At the beginning of this article its purpose is explained: “various governmental and non-governmental groups make efforts to distinguish and thus to legitimize certain practices of sexual exploitation, drawing distinctions, for example, between ‘forced’ and ‘free’ prostitution. These efforts culminated in lobbying for what would be finally included in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action that emerged from the Fourth World Women’s Conference in Beijing. This article addresses these efforts; the NGOs who advocate such distinctions; and the consequences of revising the harm done to women in prostitution into a consenting act”.
This Convention, as some activists have denounced, reflects the Abolitionist position to the point that its preamble states that "...prostitution (is) incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person...", and it specifically targets the 'third party.' The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Radhika Coomaraswamy, has stated that “the 1949 Convention has proved ineffective in protecting the rights of trafficked women and combating trafficking. The Convention does not take a human rights approach. It does not regard women as independent actors endowed with rights and reason; rather, the Convention views them as vulnerable beings in need of protection from the ‘evils of prostitution’”.
The Standards are drawn from international human rights instruments and formally-recognized international legal norms. They aim to protect and promote respect for the human rights of individuals who have been victims of trafficking, including those who have been subjected to involuntary servitude, forced labour and/or slavery-like practices. Joint initiative by Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, Foundation Against Trafficking in Women and International Human Rights Law Group (pdf format).
This network aims, among other things, to advocate at regional and global level for policies and action which further the human rights of sex workers. These rights include the right to health and a safe working environment free from abuse, violence and discrimination.
CATW is a non-governmental organization that promotes women's human rights. It works internationally to combat sexual exploitation in all its forms, especially prostitution and trafficking in women and children, in particularly girls. It is based in the US.
GAATW aims to ensure that the human rights of trafficked women are respected and protected by authorities and agencies. Its strategy is to involve grassroots women in all work. Among the features on GAATW's web site is a resource centre that maintains a wide collection of documents, books, reports, conference papers, newspaper clippings, fact-sheets, journals, videos and brochures focusing on trafficking, migration and human rights.