by Furry Girl


Oh, violent forced sex trafficking - how you give liberals a raging concern boner!  Since nothing excites a do-gooder quite like the chance to blare their uninformed "down with bad stuff!" opinion on a topic as exciting as forced sex trafficking, the latest Craigslist restrictions have prompted a month-long circle jerk for the self-righteous.

I haven't read all of what's been in the press in the last few weeks, but it's the same script that gets dusted off every few months when there's a "new" sex trafficking panic.  And, because anti-sex worker activists aim to turn all issues into a sex trafficking panic, those types are lined up to regurgitate their morbid sound bites about how all exchanges of sexual energy for cash are basicallythesamething as raping trafficked underage sex slaves.  (And, my side is plenty practiced with our less-heard replies, such as, "Do you have any evidence of any of your claims and statistics?", or "How is it that imprisoning/deporting abused sex workers makes their lives magically all better?", or "Have you ever actually asked these communities of people you claim to be saving what they want?")

Whether it's a conservative news source or a feminist/lefty one, the same cliches and hysteria get repeated without fact-check.  In a year when people on my end of the political spectrum are talking a whole lot about the importance of citing primary source materials in journalism, where's the outcry when the media just completely makes shit up about sex work?

I haven't really written about trafficking and "rescue", and it's not because I'm lazy or trying to avoid unpleasant subjects.  I have the sense to know that if something isn't my area of expertise, I ought to hush and listen to people who are in the know.  I know a bit on the subject, but other people are better teachers.

If you would like to educate yourself about trafficking, I have two homework assignments for you, which can be completed in a weekend.

First, read Laura Agustín's Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets, and the Rescue Industry.  We all have our golden books about a given topic that we recommend on a regular basis, and there's nothing that cuts through the bullshit with a sober, researched, post-colonialist mentality like Sex at the Margins.  I'll let the book's back cover summarize its contents:

This groundbreaking book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims, and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest.

Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' disempowers them.  Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radical analysis.  Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry.  Although they are treated as a marginalised group, they form part of the dynamic of the global economy.

Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire of social justice.

You can read this book over the course of one day - it's weighty subject material, but it's not a huge volume at 194 pages (plus citations/sources/index).  It's worth buying, as you'll probably want to lend it out to your friends.

Secondly, the people impacted by the rescue industry are not lawn chairs - they actually can and do speak out for themselves.  A fair bit of video material has been produced by the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (primarily about sex workers in Cambodia), and is available for free on the Sex Workers Present station.  Spend a day watching those videos.  Most are not specifically about trafficking, but they will give you a dose of reality with the struggles faced by aggrieved sex workers in the developing world, including protesting being "rescued" and sent to what are tacitly prisons where they may face violence and rape at the hands of those who are supposedly rehabilitating them.  Most of these videos are not light watching, but it's material worth seeing.

If anyone has links to independent accounts (not quotes from anti-sex worker/anti-trafficking groups' own donation-soliciting literature) from people "rescued" while working in the United States, please post them.  I'd appreciate hearing their experiences and learning about what happens when migrant sex workers get "saved" in my country.

Agustín's academic work gives you a good foundation of research and informed theory, and the videos in the Sex Workers Present collection give you real first hand accounts directly from sex workers from developing countries who've faced the brutal end of "rescue" and meddling from outside organizations who claim to be "helping" them.  I consider this to be the your homework if you'd like to have a decent grasp of the issue.

One of the gems I've taken from Mistress Matisse's blog over the years has been her repeated admonishment (though not said in the context of politics) to be wary of how often the word help is just a nice way of saying control.  I think there's no more applicable place than in the world of anti-sex worker activists.  Sure, the line is, "We want to help women escape the sex industry", but what's really being said (and done) is, "We want to control other people's choices about their own bodies and dictate politically correct employment options to people whose complex situations we don't care to understand."

We already have too many do-gooders who presume to know what's best for sex workers, especially poor sex workers, migrant sex workers, and those in developing countries. What sex workers need are allies capable of listening.  So, go read up on the research, and then listen to what sex workers are actually agitating for on their own behalf.  I assure you, it's not that they wish more liberals, NGOs, and celebrities would barge into their lives and dictate how they ought to live.


  1. I've been meaning for a while to educate myself on this. I think there is a tendancy on both sides of the argument to oversimplify things - those who are against sex work like to say that we are all victims, no one chooses this work freely, etc. They throw out statistics about rediculously high percentages of sex workers being drug addicts, or starting underage, or being forced by violent pimps, or being survivors of sexual abuse. But often middle class sex workers will go too far the other way - insisting that the sex industry is some amazing utopia for rich educated white ladies to make huge amounts of money while having amazing sex with respectful business men and nothing bad happens and there's no exploitation. In some circles it's almost a crime to admit to having any kind of weakness, being anything other than a 'happy hooker' is letting the side down.
    It's hard to find a balanced or accurate viewpoint - I'll be checking out the book and videos. Thanks for the recommendations :)

    Comment by Krystal — September 23, 2010 @ 7:21 am

  2. Krystal: It's funny you mention that, because the next quote in my queue actually addresses exactly what you're talking about.

    Comment by Furry Girl — September 23, 2010 @ 5:51 pm

  3. thanks, i'd actually heard of this book before and maybe even seen it on the Bluestockings shelf but hadn't thought to pick it up. your fleshing-out of it definitely got me OneClicking my Amazon... oh jeeze **snickers wildly at the realization of how silly that sounds, except now it's too late**

    Comment by nico — September 23, 2010 @ 4:31 pm

  4. Thank you, I will be ordering this book very soon.

    Now, more importantly, when will *you* be writing one?

    Comment by Tigerlilies — September 24, 2010 @ 4:45 am

  5. Tigerlilies: I'd gladly write a book if I could get a decent advance for one.

    Comment by Furry Girl — September 24, 2010 @ 6:20 pm

  6. Tigerlilies, do you want to irrevocably exhaust the woman!????

    Comment by nico — September 24, 2010 @ 9:27 am

  7. This was an awesome post. Krystal pretty much said what I was going to...

    My library doesn't have the book, but I'll try and get it when I have cash.

    Comment by Royce Icon — September 24, 2010 @ 6:27 pm

  8. Royce: It's worth buying if for no other reason than you'll probably want to lend it to people.

    Comment by Furry Girl — September 24, 2010 @ 6:30 pm

  9. No doubt there are some women who are tricked or forced into sex work, and they deserve assistance. But I suspect they are greatly outnumbered by those who enter the profession voluntarily. However, most women who travel from poor countries to more prosperous ones for this purpose do so as illegal immigrants with the help of criminal syndicates. If their brothel is raided, they have two choices: admit what they have done, in which case they probably face imprisonment before being deported back to their home country as a criminal; or claim to have been forcibly trafficked into prostitution, in which case they will be well treated before being sent home with no stain on their reputation. Pretty much an obvious choice, hence the large number of apparent trafficking victims.

    I have myself "rescued" a woman from sex work in the most practical way - by paying for her to finish her education, thereby opening up wider career possibilities for her; she is now a midwife. Sex work is usually an economic choice, not a moral one.

    Comment by Realoutsider — November 26, 2010 @ 6:22 am

  10. Here is an account of someone forced into sex work:

    Comment by D — November 28, 2010 @ 5:50 am

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