Feb 6, 2009
10 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
ABOUT TRAFFICKING IN THE SEX INDUSTRY
1] THE GOVERNMENT DOES NOT HAVE A WORKING DEFINITION OF TRAFFICKING
Despite having pumped millions of £s into the Poppy Project and other anti-trafficking initiatives over the past 5 years, the UK government does not have a clear definition of trafficking [more info].
2] SEX WORKERS’ OPINIONS ARE IGNORED
Of the 22 groups the UK government consulted in the 2008 review entitled ‘Tackling the Demand’, at least FIVE were Christian projects. Only one consultation was held with sex workers.
3] THE NUMBERS DON’T ADD UP
A host of experts have challenged the accuracy of the government’s statistics on trafficking. Labour MP Fiona McTaggart, a staunch supporter of the criminalisation of demand, has claimed that 80% of women working in ‘prostitution’ in the UK have been trafficked or are ‘controlled’ by a ‘pimp’ or drug dealer. But even the Poppy Project admits that it is impossible to verify these numbers and they can only ‘guess’ that the numbers of women being trafficked are on the rise. Professor Julia O’Connell Davidson, who has done extensive research on trafficking and the global sex industry, disputes the government’s numbers.
4] ANTI-TRAFFICKING INITIATIVES CAN RESULT IN WOMEN’S DEPORTATION
In 2006, the Home Office’s Operation Pentameter carried out 515 raids on indoor prostitution establishments in the UK and Ireland over four months. This resulted in the identification of 84 women and girls who were supposedly ‘trafficked’. During Pentameter 2 in 2007, 822 premises were raided and 167 ‘trafficking victims’ identified. In October 2007 Jacqui Smith refused to guarantee that women ‘rescued’ during Pentameter 2 would not be deported.
5] SEX WORK IS WORK
As feminists, we need to support workers organising in their workplaces and against their bosses, be they sex workers, sweatshop workers or supermarket workers, and stand in solidarity with all workers fighting for their rights – wherever they are in the world. Similarly, feminists need to fight for the rights and safety of all sex workers who by CHOICE, CIRCUMSTANCE or COERCION remain in the industry. To deny women the ability to choose to work in the sex industry is to deny their fight for better wages and working conditions. The criminalization of sex workers and the sex industry will increase the marginalisation and exploitation sex workers already face.
6] OUR BODIES, OUR BUSINESS
When feminists deny that sex work is labour it forces sex workers to spend our time defending the existence of our work instead of struggling for its transformation. It forces us to deny any of the pleasures of our work, or to invent them. When feminists contribute to and promote moral panic about ‘trafficking’, they make themselves complicit in increased border controls, restrictions to migration, police raids in working places and deportations. This makes feminists complicit in state violence and hierarchies among citizens.
7] WE ARE NOT ALWAYS VICTIMS
Generalisations about women’s oppression that privilege gender identity over class, race and other forms of oppression assume a unity among women that ignores difference. The prioritisation of violence against women and the focus on women as victims takes attention away from the ways women can empower ourselves. The woman-as-victim stereotype resembles patriarchal and colonial assumptions of women as passive, vulnerable and helpless. The violence that women experience needs to be understood and challenged in specific societies and contexts and not assumed as a universal fact.
8] SEX WORK IS NOT EQUAL TO FORCED LABOUR
Anti-trafficking campaigns portray all migrant sex workers as victims of trafficking and forced labour, giving the message that sex work is always enforced or exploited. This portrays trafficking and sex work as the only expression of forced labour, concealing the reality of underpayment, exploitation and abuse that undocumented migrant women often face in a capitalist system. The Poppy Project found 81% of prostitutes working in London in 2004 were foreign nationals. But foreign doesn’t mean forced.
9] WE NEED A NEW CONVERSATION
Shifting the debate about trafficking from violence and organised crime to migration and labour creates new ways of understanding the complex realities of the sex industry and the situations of sex workers. This also shifts the focus of activism away from ‘rescuing’ women from sex work, onto the oppressive impact of racist and sexist immigration and labour laws on migrant women’s lives and on sex-workers lives in particular.
10] FEMINISTS NEED TO SHOW SOLIDARITY WITH MIGRANT SEX WORKERS
Not all feminists support government initiatives to curb trafficking through attacks on the rights of sex workers and their right to work. For alternative feminist views of the sex industry and examples of how you can join feminists who support the rights of sex workers, including migrants with or without documents in the UK, get involved in x:talk!