Why Do Migrant Sex Workers Need Saving?
In the West, in the present, many people believe that sex should express love. This “good” sex is also said to provide a key way to discover personal identity -- who we really are, our innermost selves. It is assumed that feelings of love increase pleasure (quantitatively) and intensify it (qualitatively), resulting in meaningful passion that is expressed through long term, emotionally committed relationships. Other sexual relations then seem wrong, among them anonymous, public, and “promiscuous” sex. Above all, “real” love and sex are said to be incompatible with rationality and work -- at least that is the way many wish it to be.
At the same time, people wonder: Is there a boom underway in the buying and selling of sex, part of a general sexualization of contemporary culture? Since objective data is impossible to gather when businesses operate outside the law, we cannot know whether sex-and-money transactions are going on more than ever, but we certainly know we see and hear about them more. So although we tell a powerful story about sex and love belonging together, we also understand that people want other kinds of sex. We hear about people who buy and sell sex from our friends, acquaintances, the media, and sometimes through reporting on migration -- which is where “sex trafficking” comes in.
Laura Agustín has been studying migration’s links with the sex industry since 1994. Her new book is Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry (Zed Books) and other publications are available on her website.
The issue of migration in relation to sex work is a huge one for the sex worker rights movement - as abolishionists often try to get anti-sex work legislation and policies through in guise of 'stopping trafficking', in the same way that anti-fornication Christians will target homosexuality rather than saying publically that they wish to outlaw all sex outside of marriage. I myself find so much of the rhetoric of the anti-trafficking movement so obviously racist - oh, it's ok for white, western, university educated women in North countries to talk about choice - but if you are a person of colour, working class, poor, young, female - well, you just have to be a victim of exploitation....