Yesterday, we posted Part One of an interview with Sex at the Margins author Dr. Laura Agustín. Today we present our second and final segment.
It’s incredibly common now to see abolitionists argue that when prostitution is legal, as it in Amsterdam, trafficking only increases. What does the most current research actually suggest?
Everyone wants this thing called research to prove one position or another, but it can’t. Even if there were enough funds to do massive studies with a range of methodologies and amazingly objective researchers, the target is impossible to define and pin down. It’s the same problem as with numbers, the fact that the subjects of interest are operating outside formal networks. Of course you can have small ethnographic studies that provide real insight into particular people at a certain time and place, but those studies cannot prove anything in general. And certainly not about legal regimes, as in the quarrel over which causes more exploitation.
Over a very long period we may come to understand the effects of a regime like the Dutch, but it is too early now. I did research in Holland amongst people concerned with how the policy was working in 2006, when it was already clear that offering regulation only brought part of the sex industry into government accounting. Businesspeople interested in operating outside the law continued to do so; many escort agencies and other sex businesses refused to register; migrants not allowed work permits came and worked anyway and so did people facilitating their travel and work, and, in many cases, exploiting them. None of which proves that the whole system ‘increases trafficking’. You cannot even coherently discuss an increase in trafficking when there are no baseline figures to compare with. On top of which agreement about what everyone means by the word trafficking simply does not exist. This goes for both the Dutch situation and the Swedish – claims about trafficking going up or down cannot be proved. [READ MORE]
Upon the publication of her book, Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labor Markets and the Rescue Industry, anthropologist Laura Agustín became a hero to many sex worker activists. Her research cuts through the usual moral hysteria and emotionality invoked by the idea of trafficking to radically revise discussions about migration and sexual labor. Both her blog (linked above) and her book contain rational assessments of an unfair world in which people exercise choice even when they have limited options; where citizens of developing countries, like citizens of developed countries, have an urge to see more of the world; and where a single story cannot usefully articulate the experience of multiple, diverse human beings. When it comes to her approach, she explains, “I am disposed to accept what people tell me, and believe in their ability to interpret their own lives.” She kindly agreed to answer some questions for us about the current state of trafficking laws, what she calls the Rescue Industry, and public (mis)conceptions.
How did you first become interested in the sex industry?
My interest was in the experiences of friends and colleagues in Latin America who wanted to work in Europe. Travelling outside the formal economy meant having very limited choices, and, for women, selling sex and working as live-in maids were practically the only choices. People I knew conversed in a normal way about how to get to Europe and which of the jobs seemed better for them personally. I saw how certain outsiders were focussing on something they called prostitution, but I didn’t understand their anxiety about it. My original question wasn’t about migrants at all but about these people, who wanted to stop others from travelling and stop them from taking jobs they were willing to accept – all in the name of saving them. During my studies I decided that thinking in terms of commercial sex and the sex industry were one way to resist this Rescue ideology. [READ MORE]
I’m a little nervous to have been tasked with following in the footsteps of Kat’s outrageously hysterical Top 10 Anti-Sex Work Billboards. Mostly just because hers was so good but also because, as Kutchergate proved, anyone who criticizes the methodology around anti-trafficking measures may be automatically labeled a trafficking-loving monster. But I’ve probably already made my bed on that front, and dammit, somebody’s got to talk about how ridiculous these ads are.
10. I couldn’t rank this project higher because I couldn’t get too far into the website with either Safari or Chome and I think Lion is destroying my computer. What I did get to see was a super cute guy sucking on his fingers and grabbing his crotch, which totally did it for me even though I’m sure he was mistaking me for a man. Then I came back for seconds and got a Suicide Girl with a rockin’ bod dancing around like she was in a music video. (I suspect the video might be for that great rock classic, “Surprise! She seems willing but you’re a rapist.”)
South Korean sex workers protest police harassment.
It was over a month ago when we first noted that South Korean sex workers are becoming increasingly desperate to defend their right to work. Today, they are still stocking their places of work with gasoline and signs warning the police that they’re prepared to light their buildings and themselves on fire if they continue to experience harassment. All of this is the result of a particularly vicious police crackdown.
Meanwhile, the recently released US Trafficking in Persons Report accuses South Korea of being lax on trafficking. According to the US, South Korea needs more laws and more enforcement because right now there is a dearth of “stern punishments.” South Korean officials find this confusing because they’ve been relentlessly exterminating brothels since 2004 and, clearly, they’re still hard at it.
Bookmark all that for a minute. I want to show you something else. [READ MORE]
The first assumption is that sex trafficking is a unique problem [...] distinct to trafficking for other forms of forced labour, and therefore needs to be addressed separately. […T]he uniqueness of sex trafficking is justified through arguments that the sex industry is not a normal or legitimate industry.
The second assumption inherent within ‘the claim’ is that men’s demand for commercial sex services must be addressed in order to combat trafficking. [...T]he demand for products such as footwear and orange juice is not attacked as a cause of trafficking, despite the existence of trafficking victims within the garment and agricultural industries.
The assumption that demand must be addressed in order to prevent trafficking implies a specific policy solution, but only in the context of sex trafficking. It implies that it is necessary to abolish domestic prostitution in order to address sex trafficking.
Yes, it’s a long one, but Erin O’Brien’s thesis (via Scarlet Alliance) is engrossing—and another example of someone investigating trafficking stats well before The Village Voice. It includes references to Shared Hope International, which Feminist Whore touched on in her video.
I hope many people read this, including you know who and Michelle Goldberg, who will be reassured to know that evidence suggest US decision-makers act on ideology and are not particularly concerned with statistics. (“Research does not necessarily drive policy in the United States. [Carol Smolenski of ECPA] believes that due to a lack of research on the topic, legislators are more likely to act on the justification that ‘I’ve heard this thing happened, this is a bad thing so let’s do something about it.’”)