Migration, sex, work, and policy

Elizabeth's picture
Its interesting that we've largely gotten away from the "trafficking" part of the original discussion, and maybe that's partly because it's even harder to talk about than sex work is.

Still, I want to try to raise some themes and some questions. In an email conversation with Debbie Nathan she told me she'd tried to leave a comment that had somehow gotten eaten by our server. In that comment, she said, she was describing an anecdote that made her realize that the best group to help identify trafficked women were immigrant men, but that immigrant men in the US, because large numbers are here without documentation, are not likely to be willing to go to authorities to report women they've encountered who they suspect are being held or made to work against their will. Can you imagine walking into a police station or calling to report that a prostitute you had met might be held against her will in essence potentially admitting to two crimes yourself just in making the report? ("No, officer, I don't want to tell you who I am or how I know this person but I really think that maybe...") And Debbie, if you're reading, please correct any details there. I didn't actually get to read your comment, and I'm paraphrasing from an exchange several days ago.

KerwinK has also posted some reports indicating that most women who migrate and do sex work are not forced (at least not in the sense of being kidnapped or deceived) and most know that they'll be doing some form of sex work even if they don't know the full conditions of that work.

What begins to emerge is a complex global economic problem where there are lots of people who can't find reasonable work in their own regions and who -- often at great risk -- contract with others to move them, or try to move themselves to regions where they think they will be better able to support themselves. In doing that, they sometimes agree, within a set of very constrained choices, to do sex work, domestic work, agricultural work, or other work that is very difficult, sometimes dangerous, and not what they would "prefer" to be doing in the long run.

How do we talk about the potential human rights abuses that this global economic system encourages without resorting to the "moral panic" language that characterizes the dominant sex trafficking policy discussions?