Does banning prostitution make women safer?, Laura Agustín

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prostitutas_calle_sant_josep_oriol[1]‘Most of what we think we know about sex trafficking is wrong’, says Laura Agustín, who has spent 20 years investigating the sex industry.

There is a proposal in the UK to clamp down on prostitution by criminalizing the purchase of sex.

Why do you object?

Millions of people around the world make a living selling sex, for many different reasons.

What are they expected to do?

This would take away their livelihoods. Selling sex may be their preference out of a limited range of options. In the UK, migrants may have paid thousands of pounds to get here. This debt has to be paid off somehow, whether it is by working in the back of a restaurant or selling sex. Migrants who sell sex can pay off the debt much faster.

But prostitution is dangerous, especially for those who work on the street…

Women who work on the street are a small proportion of all the people who sell sex. Many more work through escort agencies, brothels or independently from home.

It is disrespectful to treat them all like victims who have been duped into what they are doing. In the UK, there are thousands of articulate sex workers who say, “Leave me alone, I did know what I was getting into and I’m okay doing it.”

Isn’t the “happy hooker” a myth? Doesn’t research show it is a miserable existence?

Given the millions of people selling sex in the world, generalisations are impossible. Much research has been done at medical clinics or shelters for victims. If you go to a trauma centre, you meet traumatised people. When people tell me they have never met anyone who wanted to be selling sex, I ask where they did their research.

Why do you think anti-prostitution laws can make life more dangerous for sex workers?

If you think what sex workers do is dangerous, why insist they do it alone? It is legal in the UK for individuals to sell sex, but they may not work with companions or employ security guards. Brothels are illegal. If you prohibit businesses but people run them anyway – which they do – then workers must please bosses no matter what they ask. That is why this is a labour issue. Also, targeting kerb-crawlers makes things more dangerous since sex workers may have to jump in cars without getting a good sense of the driver.

What about trafficking of unwilling victims?

The numbers of trafficking victims reproduced by the media have no basis in fact. There is no way to count undocumented people working in underground economies. Investigations showed that one big UK police operation failed to find any traffickers who had forced people into prostitution. Most migrants who sell sex know a good deal about what they are getting into.

If there is no proof it is common, why is there widespread belief in sex-slave trafficking?

Why do moral panics take off? Focusing on trafficking gives governments excuses to keep borders closed. Perhaps it is easier to campaign moralistically against prostitution than to deal with the real problems: dysfunctional migration and labour policies that keep large numbers of people in precarious situations.

This article appeared in print under the headline “One minute with… Laura Agustín

Laura_Agustin_RedLaura Agustín studies gender, migration and trafficking. She is the author of Sex at the Margins (Zed Books, 2007) and blogs as The Naked Anthropologist. Dr Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist, is author of the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry (2007 Zed Books), which turned her overnight into a lightning rod for international controversy. The book has been praised everywhere from The New Statesman – One of the most important books on migration published in recent years – to Italy’s La Repubblica and Susie Bright’s Journal – ‘Will turn every assumption you might have on its head.’

ReviewsReviews

‘Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.’ – Lisa Adkins, Professor of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London

‘In restoring those living on the fringes of western societies to their full humanity, this invigorating book undermines our stereotypes and provides a challenging but unforgettable picture’ – Jeffrey Weeks, London South Bank University

‘Sex at the Margins elegantly demonstrates that what happens to poor immigrant working women from the Global South when they ‘leave home for sex’ is neither a tragedy nor the panacea of finding the promised land. Above all, Agustín shows that the moralizing bent of most government and NGO programs have little to do with these women’s experiences and wishes. This book questions some of our most cherished modern assumptions, and shows that a different ethics of concern is possible.’ – Arturo Escobar, University of North Carolina

‘What a relief to have a different conversation about sex and economics outside of the usual morality/rescue mentality. My first reaction to reading the book was to want to meet the author, talk to her all day, and then take her on tour to discuss it with everyone else. This is the wave of the future, when it comes to discussing ‘prositution,’ which already seems like quaint terminology. If you’re someone who’s interested in progressive sexual politics and how the world works, you are going to EAT THIS UP. The author does write like a scientific observer, an academic. I appreciated her style and perspective. I would almost say it’s not beach reading but actually I read it lying under a mosquito net under one of the most beautiful beachside locations in California. Everyone kept passing me food and tabloid gossip magazines, and I refused them until I got to the last page.’ – Susie Bright ‘http://susiebright.com’ (Santa Cruz, CA USA)

‘Agustín’s insightful study of commercial sex workers provides the most comprehensive and sophisticated treatment of this profoundly controversial topic…This is a bold and accessible book which raises many interesting questions and poses some challenging answers…Agustín confronts her readers with a thoughtful account of migration, sex and social justice.’ – Body & Society, 2008

‘Agustin … offers new insights into development’

‘Critical reading for those studying mobility, migration and transportation … of particular interest to international criminologists and development specialist, who may be surprised at the overlap with their work and the prevalence of possibly criminal income-generating activity’
‘Agustín is a scholar of ideas focused on conceptions of migration and sex work. One of her strengths lies in her discussion of what these phenomena mean to people on the ground, particularly migrants and sex workers, who may be affected by others’ conceptions of who deserves to be present in any place and what kind of work is acceptable….Agustín…recommends that do-gooders, scholars, researchers and policymakers ‘leave home’, or their comfort-zone, in order to expand their understanding.’ – Theoretical Criminology, 2008

‘In Sex at the Margins, Agustín combines ethnographic observations, anthropological theory, and historical insights to critique the current trafficking regimes and moralizing discourses around migration and prostitution. Sex at the Margins reads primarily as a series of essays, each of which may be read independently and stands alone as a topic of interest.’ – International Migration Review, 2008

‘This book should be recommended to everyone who works for any type of ‘rescue industry.’ – Gender and Development

‘Agustin herself is a class act who deserves a wider audience.’ – The Erotic Review

The BBC flew Laura to Luxor, Egypt, to participate in their World DebateL Can Human Trafficking Be Stopped? televised worldwide 18-19 December and now online.

*** This is a truly tender topic in our world today, and Your Opinion Matters – LEAVE COMMENT HERE

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Comments

  1. Bubble blossom says

    Criminalising sex work would mean a reduced availability for sex for some people, increasing frustrations and thereby making it more dangerous for people as a whole. If they criminalise the sale of sex, they may as well go back and arrest models who also sell sex. Criminalising will open a flood of trouble, because all the attackers need to say are they the victim is selling sex and whether that is true or not it will taint the situation being investigated.

    Does this remind any one of arguement any one who is assault who wears provocative clothing is just asking for it?, heck some people who have been assaulted are not even dressed like that.

    Decriminalisation would mean that they would not have to worry about being extorted, not being able to report attacks to the police and being treated like they deserved it, would overall provide a safer environment.

    Selling is legal, f**king is legal, so why isn’t selling f**king legal?

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