Sex trafficking is just one form of labour trafficking. The phrase “sex trafficking” is as redundant as saying “cleaning trafficking”, “personal assistant trafficking” or “farm trafficking” to describe the trafficking of cleaners, servants and farm workers. We don’t call the ancestors of many African Americans “victims of fieldwork trafficking”, do we? The issue of people being trafficked into sex work should be handled in the same way as the issue of people trafficked into any other kind of work. The sex industry isn’t magically different from any other industry; all work requires the use of the body in the same way, whether it’s hitting keys with your fingertips, thrusting your elbow into a shit-filled pipe, gyrating your body (ballet dancer to lapdancer) or touching someone else’s naked body (doctor, sexworker, actor, masseuse).
But they aren’t being treated the same way. Millions of pounds and dollars are poured down the drain in pursuit of traffickers that don’t exist while labour trafficking by comparison is virtually ignored by governments, and police – even though millions more people are victims of labour trafficking than sex trafficking. (See The Sex Myth, which I promised myself I wouldn’t promote again, but it’s the most accessible source for someone who’s just looking to get a bit more info and doesn’t want to end up waist deep in academic articles and politics. You could also try the list of references/further reading below).
The problem with designating sex trafficking as different from labour trafficking is that it creates a very fictional and arbitrary distinction. There is no logic to this distinction. It creates more othering and stigma of sexwork and the sex industry. When the issue of sex trafficking is hijacked by radical feminists or moralists trying to criminalize sexwork under the guise of feminism, the distinction can be used to brand all sexworkers as “trafficked” and create a stereotype of the underage, female trafficked victim and the coerced, unhappy female sexworker. Boys and men are often ignored as if they simply don’t exist or are unworthy of the recognition or protection given to their sisters. And female sexwokers are branded as little different from trafficked women – often leading to laws and policies which criminalize sexwork or sex purchase in the name of feminism and lead to increased trafficking and violence against sexworkers. Male sexworkers and female sex buyers are usually ignored and forgotten during these struggles over criminalization. Sexworkers’ voices are also usually ignored by politicians, NGOs and the general public.
We are clearly unable, as a society, to be trusted to think about anything to do with sex in a calm, mature way. From jailing people for consensual BDSM (the UK Spanner case in the 1990s) to all the 2012 political disasters regarding abortion, abstinence, contraception and rape in both the UK and USA, we clearly seem conditioned to treat anything remotely sex-related (or related to women’s bodies) very differently from issues which do not immediately appear to be sex-related (or women’s body-related). The above issues are of course as much related to men’s bodies – and many other things such as health, culture and the economy for a start- but we perceive them as relating to slutty, slutty women. It’s the same with sex trafficking – control of women’s bodies permeates the whole criminalization agenda.
So, I think we should stop using the phrase “sex trafficking”. We should include sex trafficking in labour trafficking. If we do this:
1) The multimillionaire right-wing Christians in America might stop giving so much funding to dubious organisations in the UK and Ireland which campaign for criminalization on the basis of lies, and by denying real sexworkers’ lived experiences. A major player is the Ruhama Agency which ran Ireland’s Magdalene laundries where unmarried mothers were tortured until 1998. Now that their whole abusing girls thing has collapsed, their interest in ‘fallen women’ is now turned on sexworkers. They, who abused vulnerable, stigmatised young women now want to criminalze sexwork to ‘protect’ sexworkers from their clients and escort agencies. And of course it was conservative attitudes that landed the girls in the laundries in the first place, instead of their unmarried motherhood being accepted by their families.
2) Politicians will not be able to co-opt feminism to trick people into supporting criminalization, because we don’t have a labour trafficking stereotype of the young female.
3)Without the word “sex” in it, governments might actually be able to think more calmly and clearly about the issue and not waste our money hunting for victims and criminals who don’t exist (and arresting or deporting innocent sexworkers in the process.)
4) The sex industry will not be singled out and ‘othered’ and sexworkers will not be stigmatised as ‘the other’ or stereotyped as sad, helpless victims with no agency. Sex purchasers won’t be stigmatised as rapists. Rape will not be confused with consensual sex (which is an insult to actual rape victims, rape survivors and trafficked people).
5) We won’t have ridiculous laws which define all migrant sexworkers as “trafficked”, because defining all migrant labourers as trafficked would be seen as stupid. (See how smart we are when the ‘S’ word isn’t there?)
In conclusion, I think we should entirely abandon the phrase “sex trafficking” in favour of “labour trafficking” and/or “human trafficking”. After all, every other industry doesn’t get a trafficking term for itself; why is the sex industry so special?
http://sexonomics-uk.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/my-response-to-rhoda-grants.html (Dr Magnanti’s response to the Rhoda Grant consultation( the attempt to criminalise sexwork in Scotland). Similar to the last two chapters of her book The Sex Myth, so it’s a good option if you don’t want to buy the book.
http://feministire.wordpress.com/category/sex-work/ Feminist blog (sexwork category)
http://sexonomics-uk.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/when-help-is-anything-but.html (You can just Google the Magdalen laundries, but here Dr Brooke Magnanti does that for you, in a sexwork/rescue industry context.)
Obviously I could put more sources, but if you’re approaching the issue with no prior knowledge, Brooke’s stuff tends to be the most clear, and I think these dources are the most relevant to the content of this particular post.
Twitter: Don’t feel like reading? Great people to follow on Twitter are: Gaye Dalton, Sarah Woolley, Carol Fenton, Feckn Voters, Maggie McNeill, SexworkIE, Red Umbrella Fund, PastaChips, Laura Agustin, GlasgaeLauraLee, Banjaxed Brehon, Rene Ross, ElrondMiddleEngland, Dave Lohan, Darby Hickey, Madam Becky Adams, Nine, Petite Jasmine, Wendy Lyon, Slutocracy, Thomas Larson and Sex Workers.
Please note that for some of the people I’ve mentioned, I’ve only seen a few of their tweets. I don’t necessarily agree with these people’s views, I’m just mentioning them because they tweet stuff that is relevant to this particular blog post. Also, nearly all of these people have blogs which you can click to from their Twitter profile. I’ve made these suggestions because it seems to me to be a better idea than just listing lots of academic material that is boring reading and that you might have to pay to access. If you would like to see academic material, you can check out my response to the Rhoda Grant’s consultation: https://diaryofavirginwhore.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/response-to-the-rhoda-grant-consultation-on-criminalising-sexwork/