«

»

Jun 27 2009

Spinster aunt listens to podcast

Speaking of human trafficking and modern slavery, check out this podcast of a recent “To The Best of Our Knowledge” program entitled “The New Abolitionists.”

The first segment of the podcast features Maria Suarez, who at the age of 16 was lured away from her family by the promise of a domestic position with an elderly couple. She was instead sold for $200 to a psychopath who abused her for 5 years. The psychopath then murdered a guy and pinned it on Suarez, who ended up doing more than 20 years in prison for a murder she didn’t commit.

Despite piles of sex-slavery anecdotes, there exists controversy over whether or not human trafficking really is the human rights crisis it’s made out to be by activists and do-gooders. At this moment I hold in my hand a book called Sex at the Margins by Laura María Agustín, in which the author argues, based on a shit-ton of research and field work, that the aforementioned activists and do-gooders have ulterior, non-altruistic motives, that “trafficked” as a descriptor isn’t doing anyone any favors, that thousands of women freely “migrate” and take up “sex work” as a result of completely autonomous decisions, and that efforts to “rescue” them just fuck them up.

Agustín takes a pretty non-judgmental view, which is cool, except she extends it, unpalatably, to the “clients” who buy women. In fact, she avers that the number of men who pay to rape women is so enormous that it actually disproves the radfem hypothesis that engaging in rape culture is perverse. By which logic, pay-to-rape is the norm, making the few dudes who don’t exploit women into psychos.

Agustín proposes a theoretical framework of sexploitation based, not on male violence, but on the idea that many women have concluded, through the independent personal sovereignty available to marginalized females in such superabundance today, that “sex work” is preferable to other occupations.

I don’t disagree that “rescue” efforts might often fall into the category of ham-fisted feminist theorists gone mad, that the feminists who know what’s best for everybody often silence the injured parties, or that “helpers [...] become ventriloquists occupying the main stage while the helped sit mutely in the wings.” But dang it, in a patriarchy, where women are the sex class, and sexploitation is considered by anyone to be a dignified, violence-free occupation, something’s really fucking wrong.

If only there were time for an analysis! But it’s 105 in the shade here in Cottonmouth County, and I have to find a veranda, recline, and fan myself.

60 comments

2 pings

  1. Gnatalby

    If prevalence were an indication that no crime was committed, rape would not be a crime, nor muggings, nor drug dealing, nor physical abuse, nor– wait a second, I think I’m grasping that whole business about how repetition makes things more palatable.

    I understand how people come to believe some screwed up things, but to make a point of studying something deeply and to still not see the enormous imbalance of power? Disgusting.

  2. TwissB

    Laura Agustin is the Phyllis Schlafly of the academic apologists for commecial misogyny.

    Jill-Did you notice that the “Venus on the Half-sole” shoe was selling for $325? Seems a modest price to pay for the fun of stomping on a really classy nude woman. Art on the (cloven)hoof doesn’t come cheap.

  3. sonia

    a. who cares how crazy the activists are, at least they’re doing something

    b. fieldwork that says women “migrate,” and “decide”? really? then an examination of the global value system that puts someone in a position where moving towards sex slavery is a wise, viable step up.

  4. sonia

    …is in order.

  5. PG

    Appears that Laura Agustín can be filed under the “women (who) hate you” category. The mileage that rape apologists are going to get from this book is literally nauseous.

  6. xochitl

    What is non-judgmental about claiming that women freely, autonomously choose to become prostitutes? What shitton of research could possibly support this position?

    Whenever we organize against male violence–whether it is rape, trafficking, war, etc–you can count on the tools of the patriarchy to say that we are doing more harm than good, that we have ulterior motives, and that we are just fucking things up.

  7. xochitl

    Speaking of silencing injured parties, what is Agostin doing so that women like Maria Suarez are believed and taken seriously? What is she doing to help those anti-sex slavery activists who do not have ulterior motives and are actually helping women? Surely she has found at least a couple of them on the planet during the course of her shit ton of research. Or do they not matter because they don’t fit the idea currently fashionable in academic women’s studies that says sex trafficking isn’t such a big deal after all?

  8. xochitl

    Oh yuck, she’s also a rape apologist. She says the rape statistics in Sweden are misleading, due to the fact that if women “feel taken advantage of the next day, they may call what happened rape.” And I bet you’re more likely to read Laura Agustin than Andrea Dworkin in most women’s studies programs. Fuck the patriarchy.

    http://www.nodo50.org/Laura_Agustin/is-rape-rampant-in-gender-equal-sweden

  9. Laughingrat

    Ugh. Is it okay if I don’t actually go read Agustin’s book? Because I’m all out of anti-emetics.

    Also, what Xochitl said. Fuck Patriarchy.

  10. Minervous

    xochitl: I read the article you linked. Truly horrifying. What I’m wondering, and maybe someone here is more familiar with Swedish rape statistics can enlighten me on this subject, is this: Might Sweden’s higher rate of reported rapes be due to women feeling more comfortable reporting them there, since they are more likely to be taken seriously and less likely to be humiliated? I didn’t notice that fairly obvious question being addressed by Augustin. If women are more comfortable reporting rape, that would be a sign of progress in Sweden.

    Also, I could not believe that she was minimizing rape committed against drunk or drugged women. Utterly astounding that a woman would take that attitude.

  11. Rayedish

    Having done a fair bit of reading on the subject, the consensus in the research seems to be that yes, sex trafficking does occur, but its prevalence is grossly over stated by various vested interest groups. More people are trafficked for the purposes of forced labour into slavery type situations all over the globe. Garment making, brick making, agricultural labour, and domestic service are just some examples of areas into which people are forced. Popular discussions of trafficking equates all forms of trafficking with sex trafficking achieves several things. On the one hand women who enter the sex industry “willing” are denied their agency and the underlying economic conditions which would make such a move appealing are unexamined. Because of the perceived belief in the prevalence of sex trafficking women in various countries have their freedom of movement restricted. In some countries young women are not allowed to travel alone or cross borders which places them more at risk of exploitation as they have to pay people to accompany them. In addition by maintaining the fiction that most trafficking is sex trafficking we can ignore that so many of the cheap goods and services in the global financial markets were produced by slaves – an uncomfortable reality that many do not want to face.

  12. delphyne

    There is also a shit-ton of research that human trafficking is a huge issue and that women and children are forced into it.

    And I haven’t read Agustin’s examples of useless abolitionist “rescue” efforts but usually it turns out that these are a figment of an overactive sex pozzie imagination rather than anything real and concrete.

    The latest trick amongst the pro-sex industry lobby is to attack the motives and characters of anti sex industry feminists because they can’t deny the reality of what is going on so they have to resort to ad hominems.

    Have you read Sheila Jeffreys’ latest, “The Industrial Vagina”, Jill? It might work as an antidote.

  13. xochitl

    “On the one hand women who enter the sex industry “willing” are denied their agency.

    I’m still in shock that women on a radical feminist blog believe that women willingly choose to become prostitutes.

    In any case, what about those who don’t enter it willingly? Do you think they are just lying about being forced into prostitution? Is that why the numbers of women forced into prostitution are so inflated, because of all these happy transnational sex workers who are lying about being forced or coerced into it?

    Sam Berg has an excellent article on the “transnational sex worker” as the latest form of rape denial and racism:

    http://nyc.indymedia.org/en/2006/09/76044.html

    And yes, I’ll shut my pie hole now.

  14. rootlesscosmo

    women who enter the sex industry “willing” are denied their agency and the underlying economic conditions which would make such a move appealing are unexamined

    How do the desperate expedients forced on women by “underlying economic conditions” illustrate “agency?” The reason poverty is also called “economic necessity” is that it deprives the poor of meaningful freedom. All the more reason to admire and support those who nevertheless find ways to resist, and to encourage resistance among others in like condition, but necessity and freedom are opposites, and the work poor people accept because there’s no alternative isn’t “appealing,” it’s miserable and oppressive.

  15. Ciccina

    Rayedish writes:

    “Popular discussions of trafficking equates all forms of trafficking with sex trafficking achieves several things. On the one hand women who enter the sex industry “willing” are denied their agency and the underlying economic conditions which would make such a move appealing are unexamined.”

    Achieved by whom? I can’t follow your logic. Which actors who partake in “popular discussions” exaggerate sex trafficking stats in order to deny women their agency?

    “Because of the perceived belief in the prevalence of sex trafficking women in various countries have their freedom of movement restricted. In some countries young women are not allowed to travel alone or cross borders which places them more at risk of exploitation as they have to pay people to accompany them.”

    Are you talking about countries like Saudi Arabia? Because i would think that Saudi Arabia would understate the number of women involved in sex trafficking. Countries with oppressive governments such as SA tend to produce insufficient data on crimes against women (of all sorts), since women are generally denied protection under the law. Besides, since when have the Saudis needed to exaggerate sex trafficking stories to justify the segregation and oppression of women?

    Another thing I don’t understand – leaving Saudi Arabia aside, let’s say in a given country, the prevalence of sex trafficking is low, but the government says it is high in order to scare women away from traveling on their own.

    This causes young women to pay people to accompany them, putting them at more of a risk, by which I presume you mean that the amount of trafficking is increased. Are you saying that there is a cyclical relationship – the government exaggerates the prevalence of sex trafficking, which has the effect of increasing the actual rate… which means the government has to revise upwards its numbers in order to continue exaggerating? At what point does the actual rate catch up to the rate the government reports – and the government’s numbers are simply accurate (not overstated)?

    “In addition by maintaining the fiction that most trafficking is sex trafficking we can ignore that so many of the cheap goods and services in the global financial markets were produced by slaves – an uncomfortable reality that many do not want to face.”

    I’m sorry, I missed the part where “vested interests” state that there are *more* people trafficked for purposes of sexual slavery than all other forms of slavery combined. Who says this?

    I also question whether you yourself are not “overstating” the number of people trafficked for non-sexual slavery by lumping together people who migrate for the purpose of finding work, willingly take a job in a garment factory and wind up working in slavery-like conditions, with people who are trafficked internationally for the purpose of enslavement.

    By doing so, are you not denying these garment workers their agency?

  16. hero

    ANY culture where selling rape is ever considered a “choice” the victims make over other kinds of work is weeeeeeirdly evil and twisted. Sex pos tools give me the willies. That it should ever even have come to this! What the hell, what the hell, what the bloody hell?

    Also Xochitl, I am in love with your name. And your attitude; do not shut the pie hole.

  17. jael

    see; there is an interesting intersection between capacity to make a decision and underlying circumstances. we all have agency to a certain extent over atleast some of our actions.

    if it were the case that no poor woman can choose to become a prostitute, then why do many poor women from very similar circumstances to those who end up in brothels not end up prostituted?

    within the confine of the limited options available to us, most people (and yes; this includes the absolutely poor) are able to make some type of selection.

    I think where this discussion about “choice” and “no choice” goes astray is that we often do not acknowledge that everyone – everyone – is faced with constrained circumstances; and everyone has – to a greater or lesser extent – come choice within those circumstances, even if the options are deeply unappealing.

    failing to acknowledge some small ability to chose has us, the middle class westerners, once again denying the capacity of women in poor countries to make their own decisions.

    rootlesscosmo – you’re right about differentiating between those coerced into prostitution. However; the trafficking paradigm does not differentiate between women sold by relatives and an individual acting within the scope of their relative agency. it becomes trafficking once their is an act of deceit or restraint. there is an enormous difference between the circumstances of the two women above; putting them into the same “trafficking” basket weakens efforts to assist either of them.

    sonia:
    [i] a. who cares how crazy the activists are, at least they’re doing something [/i]

    be careful what you wish for (or dont’ care about); as you dont’ know what it is you’re saying. lots of damage can be done by crazy activists (in all fields). just doing something is never a good thing – if you can do no good, atleast do no hard should be made the oath of aid and assistance workers everywhere.

  18. delphyne

    “if it were the case that no poor woman can choose to become a prostitute, then why do many poor women from very similar circumstances to those who end up in brothels not end up prostituted?”

    Luck?

    It’s a bit like arguing that rape must be a choice because there are women who don’t end up getting raped. Just because there are some women who don’t end up prostituted doesn’t prove that prostitution is a choice in any meaningful sense of the word.

    “failing to acknowledge some small ability to chose has us, the middle class westerners, once again denying the capacity of women in poor countries to make their own decisions.”

    Yes I bet that’s what is keeping prostituted women in the developing world awake at night – having their capacity to choose denied by middle class westerners. The twenty or thirty men they are going to have to service the next day, including maybe some white middle class western men, not so much.

    People who want to constantly keep the focus on women’s choices are doing so in order to disguise the real decision-makers in this process – the men who buy and sell women.

  19. rootlesscosmo

    @Jael:

    within the confine of the limited options available to us, most people (and yes; this includes the absolutely poor) are able to make some type of selection.

    I think where this discussion about “choice” and “no choice” goes astray is that we often do not acknowledge that everyone – everyone – is faced with constrained circumstances; and everyone has – to a greater or lesser extent – come choice within those circumstances, even if the options are deeply unappealing.

    Rayedish referred to “underlying conditions which would make such a move appealing.” Isn’t there a difference between making the (apparent) best of a bad situation and finding something “appealing?”

    Here’s a not atypical story: a woman comes to the US from another country with her husband, who’s here on a student visa. After a few years she decides she wants to end the marriage, but knows this will mean losing her status as a legal US resident. What choices does she have? She can leave the marriage and stay here, at the risk of deportation if she’s found out; go back to her country of origin, where she will be unable to find paid work; or stay in a miserable relationship with a cruel, hateful man. She does indeed have choices, but they’re all bad ones.

    In fact, one way to define oppression is as the condition of having no good, safe, un-damaging options. Yes, that’s agency, in a technical sense, but it seems a far cry from freedom.

  20. Shopstewardess

    The patriarchy limits the choices of all women: all of us have a limited stock of responses falling within four main categories-

    a) assimilation: we pretend to be [equal to] men (and get thrown out of this group when we get pregnant, raise children, or argue a sex discrimination case)
    b) accommodation: we supply services to men (wife, childbearer, porn actress, prostitute)
    c) avoidance (nuns, spinsters)
    d) activism (we “shrill, hairy legged” feminists).

    Most of us, within this itself limited set of choices, then choose, consciously or not, a mixture of different strategies, at different times in our lives. Arguably, a woman who becomes a prostitute has made an extreme choice within the “accommodation” response.

    But most prostitutes start that work as teenagers, underage even for legal and consensual sex, usually having sufffered abuse in the family and with addiction problems. Maria Suarez, mentioned in Jill’s post, was 16 when she was trafficked. She was a child, and had little or no choice. Most other prostitutes start as children, and because of their family background, lack of education and lack of knowledge about the way the world works, have little meaningful choice either. Better child protection and education (by which I don’t mean formal book learning, but information about the way the world works and how best to deal with it) would help. But of course, that would not solve the underlying problem of male demand. For which, naturally, IBTP.

  21. Agasaya

    Marriage, in many cases, is little more than prostitution although one may have ‘more agency’ within that category. Women have had little choice about marriage until recently in select places unless they preferred to starve or be ejected from ‘community’. Sex for status, money, food, housing or even protection from worse than one’s husband is quite common. Marriage is a civil construct and there is no mandate for love or devotion within it. But if sex isn’t part of it, the marriage can be invalidated. I know many sick women who were divorced and left with nothing because they could no longer provide ‘agreeable’, if any, sex.

    The title of wife is legal and respected versus prostitute. However, we do associate the title of ‘mistress’ with even more scorn than is levied at prostitutes. It is assumed that they have greater agency (and no pimp to satisfy).

    The dismissal of human trafficking as being rather pointless to fight seems to be part of desensitization stemming from the esteemed role of ‘wives’ throughout history.

    After all, every woman has to belong to somebody.

  22. polly sytrene

    100% of people die at some point or other. I therefore propose that we should get rid of doctors and hospitals on the basis that they’re expensive and simply postponing the inevitable.

  23. polly sytrene

    Also I would like to put to Ms Agustin the challenge I issued some time ago to all non sex worker advocates of sex work. Why not take up sex work? I hear it’s really lucrative. Probably better paid than writing books I reckon.

  24. Jill

    “Why not take up sex work? I hear it’s really lucrative. Probably better paid than writing books I reckon.”

    Ha! I’ve used the same retort to people who think being a stripper is the height of women’s empowerfulment. If being a stripper is so great, why don’t you encourage your mom/wife/sister/16-year-old daughter to take it up?

  25. jael

    rootlesscosmo – so you’re right; it’s a choice; but they’re bad choices. So i’d put it to you that the issue is improving the options she has so that there are more attractive alternatives.

    the beauty of the example you’ve given is it highlights one of the major issues with trafficking, which is legal status in a country. So long as someone’s residency and status are dependent on someone else, on a job or unofficial and subject to deportation people are significantly more vulnerable to exploitation.

    if the woman in your hypothetical example was able to secure her immigration state independent of the husband, she’d be able to leave without fear of deportation.

    When people talk about immigration relative to trafficking, they’re often referring to issues like this. Poor country to poor country trafficking is often of stateless women and children, or of people without identification (just walk across a border). Trafficking into rich countries (like the US etc) is usually on a passport (valid or not) and visa (valid or not). So long as the person in question is dependent on a job, someone else’s benevolence or afraid of being deported if they get away/report people there remains an incredible pressure to remain in the situation.

    Agasaya – no one is saying trafficking is pointless to fight. I think the question is more of what is the most appropriate artillery to deal with it; than a question of is it worth fighting or not.

    delphyne – I don’t think it’s an either or; it’s not just about the men who buy and sell women (moot point; the large numbers of women who are involved in trafficking; esp recruitment and grooming), nor is it just about women’s choices. To really address the situation both need to be dealt with. How can women be given other options? (Improve local economy; well paying other jobs; a real economic role etc..) How do we stop men buying sex? (jail time; public shaming; education campaigns targeting children etc…)

    None of this is about the purchase of sex being anything other than barbaric; about sex positivity or negativity. It’s about the mechanics of human exploitation and how best to address it. The barbarity is horrendous, no questions.

  26. Agasaya

    Agasaya – no one is saying trafficking is pointless to fight.

    No one here is saying it but, by Augustin concluding that this is not a ‘perverse’ circumstance in society at large, ensures a lack of resources will be allocated to fight it. And, as you say, women themselves will seek ways to engage in it if no other options are available.

  27. rootlesscosmo

    @Jael:

    the issue is improving the options she has so that there are more attractive alternatives.

    Agree 100%.

    How do we stop men buying sex?

    That’s a tough one. Abolishing the sex class means also abolishing the rapist class–the Twistolution, in a word. How to make it happen? Anyone? Anyone?

  28. jael

    Agasaya – Augustin’s conclusion (of non-perversity) was about prostitution, not about trafficking. Radical feminist theory tends to have a sliding scale that greys the area between the two; and I think herein lies, for most of us, the major theoretical break with what she’s claiming.

  29. Agasaya

    Radical feminist theory tends to have a sliding scale that greys the area between the two…

    Understood and I certainly fail to see a distinction. Just how many little girls say, “I wanna be a hooker when I grow up.”? It is coercion but given ‘lesser’ names or considered ‘victimless’ as if that will make all right in the world for the prostitute’s egos. However, since prostitution is rarely an ‘independent’ service these days, it should be considered trafficking as well. Most of the women aren’t taking home their profits.

  30. yttik

    It’s already been covered in the comments, but I’ll say it again. One reason some women “choose” sex work is because it sucks less than many of the other options available such as starvation, desperate poverty, marriage to an abusive man, or unpaid sexual exploitation, perhaps from uncles, relatives, bosses, etc. I’m not just referring to women in third world countries, I’m also speaking of women in the US.

    I absolutely understand why someone would “choose” to be a stripper, to make a livable wage instead of working a minimum wage job and having a series of men decide you just exist to serve them sexually anyway. I understand those who try to claim that the sex trade can be empowering. I think they’re wrong, but I understand why some people have this false concept of sex work/pornography and female empowerment. It’s tough because I disagree with them so intensely, but my beef is not with those feminists who have convinced themselves that sex work/pornography can be empowering. My problem is with the patriarchy that has created this situation where economic autonomy for women can be so difficult to achieve.

  31. Comrade PhysioProf

    But it’s 105 in the shade here in Cottonmouth County, and I have to find a veranda, recline, and fan myself.

    Jesus fucking christ, that’s hot. You better make a pitcher of motherfucking Sauza margaritas.

  32. jami

    To The Best Of Our Knowledge, which seems to be a thoughtful podcast, had a weird episode on the book Lolita that left me feeling betrayed. They featured a lady literature expert who’d too long had to toe the patriarchal line that imagining sex with young girls was fine so long as you can pretend to be wildly diverted by the writing style.

    So I am unsurprised that the had a segment that seems to have amounted to “Sex Slavery: What’s The Big Deal?” And I am unsurprised that they found a woman happy to represent the patriarchy’s viewpoint after her years of practice using the patriarchy’s viewpoint to advance in academic circles.

  33. speedbudget

    I’m sorry, but I didn’t realize there was really any choice involved in sex trafficking. From my understanding of the situation, the traffickers go to poor countries and offer young women and girls work in either Europe or America as maids or nannies. They promise money that these girls can send back to their families. They groom these girls over several days to gain trust. The girls willingly go, but they think they are going to reputable work. They might understand that they will be entering the country illegally or might not. Doesn’t matter. The fact is, they are lied to from the get-go. I fail to see where choice comes in when you are kidnapped and shipped goddess knows where.

    it’s not just about the men who buy and sell women (moot point; the large numbers of women who are involved in trafficking; esp recruitment and grooming

    Hell to the yeah, if I were in a sex-slave trafficking situation, I would try to escape, and that might just involve the need to ingratiate myself to the traffickers by making myself indispensable to them until I could hoard enough cash and contacts to get myself out. If that means recruiting and/or grooming, that’s what I would have to do. I don’t see where this excuses the main players in this: The men.

    If there were no market for rape-on-demand, there would be so sex slavery.

  34. speedbudget

    I did put an end blockquote tag in there. Don’t know what happened.

    “Hell to the yeah. . .” is the start of my commentary.

    That, my friends, is a correctly-used ellipsis.

  35. jael

    speedbudget – the type of trafficking you’ve recounted is the international gold standard perception of trafficking. It is one way women end up trafficked.

    The thing is, only a small % of trafficked women and children are trafficked in this way.

    The thing in all these discussions is that ‘trafficked’ is a state you end up in. It’s a technical term used by organizations and international government to determine who is “innocent” and thus worthy of help.

    Very fortunately then (as if you’re not innocent you’re a wanton hussy that deserves all the jail time you get), for women who are in some way in a captive prostitution situation, the definition is broader than children taken from home. Trafficked women might be tricked at the border; forced to perform acts they don’t wish to; are unable to leave. Their intent at the time they entered the situation is irrelevant. They end up unable to leave is the crux of it. The choice, as it were, disappears. So, young women and girls in situations like you’ve discussed about, speedbudget, are put in the same category as women who know they are going to sell sex and wish to do so.

    Not that this is a ‘good’ option by any means, but it’s a very different circumstance; however; the dominant trafficking discourse demands they both be addressed in the same way; it makes them “worthy” of help; worthy of being rescued; of being saved.

    As yttik says; we’re living in a patriarchy that makes economic autonomy for women difficult to achieve. If there was a way for girls and young women to be net economic contributors in their communities then there would be significantly less incentive for families to “buy the lies” of work abroad, and reason for women to leave.

    When you get down to it, it’s a 100% patriarchal issue; if there was no market for the purchase of sex acts; if women could support themselves; if children were not an economic burden; but most of all; if men didn’t buy sex; there wouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately; there is a market; they wasn’t; they are and they do. In lieu of the revolution arriving yesterday, something still needs to be done; and perceptions of the best approach vary enormously.

  36. Tigs

    One of the divides that appears to be driving this conversation is between a [b]theoretical and philosophical[/b] desire to do two things:
    1.) Put the blame on the people who are acting badly
    2.) Pose the question as free v. unfree
    and a [b]practical[/b] desire to create space that allows for even marginal improvements in (trafficked) womens’ lives.

    However philosophically satisfying those desires may be, I think that by situating these desires in opposition to the recognition of agency and provision for real avenues for action (by people willing and able to act) leads primarily to bourgeois commenting instead of praxis-oriented planning.

    Not to go on for too long, but I think that there’s something problematic in characterizing material experiences as free v. unfree. In terms of a maximal freedom, this makes sense, but given that we all exist in various states of unfree (and I do mean all, until humanity is free from necessity and death, there’s something standing in the way of complete self-determination), I suspect that the use of a utopian freedom is only useful as a critical measure against which we might measure our current and relative freedom.

    I think the more useful philosophical question is: how free might this person [class of persons] be? Further, how might we help to expand that freedom? Even further, how might we expand our own freedom while concurrently expanding the freedom of others?

  37. jael

    Tigs; if you have any suggestions as to how you envision moving this form commentary to praxis-oriented planning (?) I’m all ears. The idea we could somehow strategize the demise of sex trafficking right here on the internetz super best blog seems to me to be the height of bourgeois commentary in and of itself. (I have an almost overwhelming urge to put a smiley face in here. I am fortunately able to resist).

    You’re right, we all exist in states of unfree. In inverse; we all also exist in states of free. There isn’t a dichotomy; there is a perspective on one hand and a sliding scale on the other. We had an exchange some months back I think about how one can ascribe agency and capacity to act to incredibly disadvantaged women in the poor world. I think this conversation is – in a way – a continuation of that.

    When you as – how free might this person [class of persons] be? I think you’re asking the question that presupposes all of this. Is this something to address as a group issue (ie: all women that are trafficked) or by broad type/incident nature.

    I think Augustin’s argument about immigration is most helpful at certain points in the narrative:
    *prior to departure – legal status; increase alternate international opportunities; reduction of risks/costs associated with illegal movements and sale of sex, if an individual determined that was the course of action they were going to pursue anyway and
    *once in a trafficked situation – decrease risks/fear of immigration authorities.

    It’s not a be all and end all; but there is significant validity in the idea that am more favorable immigration regime would go a long way towards addressing the major violation of humanity that is sex trafficking.

    Also – I’ll try shut up now. Sorry for thread domination.

  38. Tigs

    @jael, I think that talking about the ways that feminists can work locally to expand these constrained choice sets IS that praxis (I also think this is a continuation of that ]those] conversation[s].).

    Pointing to: “prior to departure – [...] decrease risks/fear of immigration authorities.” Figuring out ways that *we* (or perhaps even just those of us with whom this issue resonates) can work to change these policies and if/how that expands real freedom, is I think, the work of resistance.

    I also think this might have a dialectical relationship, because as we as feminists (and while I know some blamers are long dusty from the trail, I may also suggest that there are many young feminists out here who’ve come to consciousness outside of a movement and therefore are lacking in very real political and activist skills–and could thus benefit from explicit discussions about the relationship between consciousness and practice) work to expand freedom (be it our freedom or the freedom of others), via culture, art, civil society, politics, etc., we gain skills that simultaneous increase our own power and sphere to act resistively.

    So: figuring out if there are any parts of new immigration bills that are floating about that could use grassroots support, figuring out if there are ways to expand outreach to individuals in our local communities, hell– I think for many intents and purposes, this blog probably isn’t the place to have a full-blown discussion on what *we* might do to better this situation–so, perhaps someone writes a blog post with specific ‘tasks to be done’ and links it. <–There’s praxis!

    When I talk about the importance of having a theory though, I do mean that unless we situate this work (and whatever work it is that we’re doing, at this point in my life, I’ll be honest–I’m working on other things) in relation to a discussion of freedom–absolute and possible–we run the distinct risk of recreating/advocating policies that reproduce historical hierarchical structures. Working in constant relation to the expansion of freedom, while at the same time maintaining the fallibility of our own understanding of that freedom, is necessary.

    Also, I think that having a discussion about agency even in the most constrained of situations is important and we can learn through that conversation. I think perhaps relevant to our discussion here might be an issue broached in Angela Davis’s “Unfinished Lecture on Liberation II.” In it, among other things, she discusses Nat Turner’s rebellion within the context of the question: If the choice is to submit or die, can we really call that a choice? Davis argues that if we frame the question in this way, then no, this was no choice and thus the value of resistance is thrown into question. However, she continues, that we can re-read that history and re-frame Nat Turner’s choice as a choice between submission and the risk of death even with the most minimal chance that his beloved enslaved compatriots might be free. Thus, resistance, even with its most dire of outcomes, becomes a fierce and loving act with real, historic value. When we submit to narratives that say resistance is futile (and that even the most constrained of individuals has no space for resistance), we succumb to some seriously bad forms of alienation.

    And jael, honestly, if there were a thread for you to dominate, this would probably be the one, no?

  39. delphyne

    Luckily we don’t need the intellectual self-abuse, the Swedes and now the Norwegians have sorted out a solution (or at least a partial one) already. Prosecute the johns, decriminalise prostituted people, and tackle demand at its roots:

    http://www.penelopes.org/Anglais/xarticle.php3?id_article=21

    These people are on the case too, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women:

    http://www.catwinternational.org/

  40. Tigs

    “Luckily we don’t need the intellectual self-abuse, the Swedes and now the Norwegians have sorted out a solution (or at least a partial one) already.”

    Okay, so what are the steps to make the US system (or wherever blamers are local, assuming they’re not in Sweden or Norway)? Are there elected officials that are sympathetic to these views? Are there bills in the House or Senate that have been introduced into committee that we can call by number and ask our representatives to support?
    In that Scandinavian civil law is an entirely different set of historical institutions from Anglo-common-USA law, do we need to change the structures for the American system?

    It’s not good enough to just know the right answers.

  41. delphyne

    That’s me told.

    I don’t know about the US, but I haven’t heard of any issues in the UK about applying that type of a law under our legal system (whether there is the political will to do so is another matter). After all our authorities have never had any problem criminalising prostituted people. I don’t think yours have either.

    This is the kind of thing that is happening over on this side of the Atlantic at the moment:

    http://www.demandchange.org.uk/

    I support the Scottish Socialist Party who also support outlawing paying for sex.

  42. jael

    delphyne – CATW are pretty damn good. I take it you’re aware of the various weaknesses in the Swedish system. it sure is a good start though.

    Actually, the US has some good legislation dealing with local trafficking (something that rarely gets touched on – it’s intercountry stuff that’s a big deal because one government can’t hide it; local stuff gets hidden by the government). so yeah america.

    That said, the us could do better (waaaay better) is, being the global police force that it is, to have a better system for measurement. the office to monitor and combat trafficking in persons once a year puts out the Trafficking in Persons Report. It rates countries everywhere on how they’re dealing with trafficking and is pretty effective as a diplomatic stick/carrot thing.

    however; it really emphasizes sending countries; not receiving countries – which of course, skews the paradigm (and thus, “the soloution”) towards interventions with the women. More attention and ratings on receiving countries; ratings on how they’re dealing with the problem and addressing the demand for women would do wonders shifting the debate.

    the us – politically – has made trafficking, esp sex trafficking, it’s big thing. be warned; it’s waning in political importance as trafficking shifts from a sex focus to dealing with trafficking for labour. and i will put money on trafficking for labour focusing more on receiving countries (not much; just more). however – if there was a way to get a much bigger emphasis on receiving countries in the TPR it’d be a big deal.

    re: the right answers. i don’t think there are right answers; – i mean, get rid of all money-for-sex transactions is an objective goal and a good one. how to go about it is varied. the swedish model is good. but it doesn’t have to be stand alone. everything impacts everything else. economic status, income earning opportunities, age, personal beliefs, luck – all this stuff matters. too often these discussions (the Augustin v the crusaders) end up with both sides arguing for the purity of their paradigm.

    yet, i think it’s fair to say we need both; that both make contributions – we need a drive to get rid of commodified sex entirely (i think this is though a mental, not political state – end goal; the eradication of patriarchy); but until that time comes, we cannot ignore the face that millions of women find themselves in incredibly vulnerable situations each year, and will do so irrespective of wether or not the Scottish Socialist Party or whoever outlaw paying for sex. how to best be of assistance has to be an incredibly important question.

    Tigs: the Nat Turner reframe by Davis’ is a perfect example of a concept i seem to have enormous difficulty conveying. thank you for it.

  43. Ciccina

    @ jael

    “The thing in all these discussions is that ‘trafficked’ is a state you end up in. It’s a technical term used by organizations and international government to determine who is “innocent” and thus worthy of help.”

    This is a terribly ignorant statement, but a great way to demean all the hard work done by feminists in organizations and governments around the world, and in agencies like the UN, who work on this issue.

    I think you may want to look further into the work that is actually being doing on the ground.

    By the way, the UN has a term for the condition in which women sell access to their bodies because they have no other options: its called “survival prostitution.” I believe one of the reasons they use this term is to avoid getting caught up in questions of agency that always seem to derail practical discussions of helping women (and girls, and boys, and men) in crisis.

  44. jael

    ciccina; i appreciate your opinion on my knowledge/ignorance ratio, but, no fear, i know what i’m talking about! (no, really, i do. i promise) I will say it again – trafficking in a technical term. It is used (by the UN and others) to describe people who are in a very specific set of circumstances. the conditions that the individual’s may be in vary widely, but the commonality is a loss of freedom, or a belief in ones lack of freedom. Pointing out that trafficking is a technical term in no way demeans the people and individuals working on the issue; i’m not sure how you think it does – i have enormous good will for anyone willing to do said work. it’s not easy, to say the least. Nor does it mean that the definition shouldn’t be broader; it’s simply a statement of fact.

    i can’t find a definition online for survival prostitution (you have a UN link anywhere?). it seems like a good term (though i’d really want to see the definition). survival prostitution, on a superfical reading of the concept, would not qualify as trafficking, unless it entailed elements of loss of freedom.

    This is part of what i mean about “innocent” victims – trafficking clearly designates an “innocent”, “worthy of help” group. it relegates anyone else who offers commodified sex, for whatever reason (survival or not), to the “not trafficked” category. so by focusing on “trafficking” nations/governments/countries are able to claim they’re helping those who “deserve it” and demonise the those who aren’t trafficked – you know, they’re helping the “good girls” type thing. and the local political/legislative framework has a massive impact on what NGO’s and grassroots organisations are doing.

    also, agh – why do people like the UN so much?

  45. Ciccina

    “People” like the UN so much because, among other things, they fund programs throughout the developing world that promote women’s empowerment, provide family planning and reproductive health services, promote girls education, educate girls and boys about gender-based violence and gender equality, support grassroots feminist groups that push for better laws and law enforcement, and so on. These are real programs and services, on the ground, helping real people. You may want to look into it.

    I know that “trafficking” has a definition. It didn’t even occur to me that you would think I was objecting to the word…!

    What I object to (and I thought this was obvious) is your assertion that the term “trafficking” is used by governments, international agencies and NGOs to “determine who is innocent and thus worthy to help.”

    This is wrong on (at least) two counts. The fight against trafficking takes place in two arenas. One is law-enforcement. This involves both national and international agencies. Their focus is on a particular type of criminal enterprise. Feminists work in this arena to ensure law enforcement does not punish or further victimize trafficked persons, and to make sure the legal needs of victims are met.

    The other arena is women’s rights and health. This work involves a direct relationship between the woman and the service provider, on the ground. In this arena, I know of no agency that discriminates in providing services, or denies services to women based on whether or not they are “innocent” or “worthy.” The entities with which I am most familiar – UNFPA, IPPF – provide services to all women in need, regardless of how they came to be in need. Many programs work directly with women in brothels – regardless of how the girls and women came to be there – to give them the information and supplies they need to protect themselves against sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies, to tell them about programs that will help them get out of the brothels, provide protection, can teach them a trade so they can earn money a different way, etc. Program workers act as intermediaries between the woman and the police, and so on.

    But I know of no health, education, anti-violence etc. program that only helps women who are trafficked into sex slavery and excludes women who “willingly” take up sex work. There is no discrimination between “worthy” and “unworthy” women in need. There is no “good girls” vs. “bad girls” thing.

    Theoretically, yes, one could say that the term “trafficked” could be used euphemistically to divide “innocent” victims from those who “deserve it.” But just because it could be used that way, doesn’t mean it is. When you state that governments and organizations discriminate against un-trafficked women, you malign the work of thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of people who care deeply about women’s rights and health – some of whom I know rather well.

    And now, again you state that “nations/governments/countries are able to claim they’re helping those who “deserve it” and demonise the those who aren’t trafficked – you know, they’re helping the “good girls” type thing. and the local political/legislative framework has a massive impact on what NGO’s and grassroots organisations are doing.”

    Can you give an example of a government that applies such a framework, or an example of an NGO that discriminates in providing services?

    In fact, if you have any real world examples at all, I’d be interested in seeing them. I learn something new everyday, but so far today I’m coming up goose eggs.

  46. jael

    Ciccina – I want to open this post by saying I’ve worked in the area of counter trafficking for several years, based in south east asia. I’m not basing what I’m saying on papers I’ve read or concepts I’ve studied; what I’m saying is the product of that work on the ground. Please keep this in mind as you read the following. I’m also going to somewhere between general/specific in my response to you (duty of care/privacy etc…). Again, I hope you can appreciate this.

    I want to point you back to Agasaya’s comment, way back up the thread – where she makes the observation that she see no distinction between prostitution and trafficked women who are used for sex. I’d say most of us here see shades of grey around the issue. It would be great if everyone who provided commodified sex was able to access the same services. It’d make a huge difference to the operating paradigm.

    Pretty much every government in the world distinguishes between women who are “trafficked” and women who voluntarily sell sex(see above debates around use of the word) – the golrious swedes included.

    The most obvious example; a woman who is trafficked may be permitted visa rights in a country when she is “rescued”, for either the duration of a trial against her trafficker or long term. She will also be able to access special funding in certain circumstances if she returns to her home country (often through IOM; can include skills training, business start up funds etc).

    In the contexts I’m most familiar with – Viet Nam and Cambodia – support for women is very closely tied to their status. Vietnamese women who are deemed to be prostitutes are placed in 05/06 rehabilitation centers, where they are “rehabilitated” from the practice of prostitution. These centers also house drug addicts who are undertaking rehabilitation, either court order of voluntarily. In the very few studies done of the centers, one centre with a population of 1600 was found of have an incidence of HIV of over 90% of the population. This was in the 90′s; no similar data on the centers have been released since. While training is provided it is minimal, and in essence, these centers serve as de facto jails.

    Any woman repatriated as a trafficking victim (because there’s no internal trafficking for sex in Viet Nam, cough, cough, cough) is able to access internationally provided funding, as well as government provided funding to retrain, for food, accommodation at a shelter for trafficking victims (which, for a while, they were considering placing in the above 05/06 centers. Last I heard that was nixed, but who knows, still might raise its head).

    The “only” difficulty is getting classed as a victim of trafficking. Apparently there are less than three dozen trafficked women returned to Viet Nam every year (irrespective of the number that pop up in Cambodia and Singapore). If you return by walking across the (very porous) border, there is little chance, if any, you’ll be able to access support. It costs money to support each individual retuned victim, often money that local government does not have.

    Any NGO that wishes to operate within the Vietnamese must operate with a Vietnamese government partner (usually the Women’s Union, or Social Evils Prevention). The individuals they can work with are determined by the government. Organizations are not able to provide services for other people not designated by the government. This applies to local as well as international NGO’s. It’s good in a way, because it requires buy in from the existing support structure in the provision of services; it’s a negative because it means NGO’s end up implementing/supporting government objectitive, often at the expense of those who need support.

    The Vietnamese government produces legions of paperwork (legions!) dealing with their “problem” – there are hundreds of courses delivered each year on how to identify victims of trafficking; border guards trained to deal with potential returnees (because they all have passports and return at border crossings); there are forms and protocols infitieum – but few actual returned Victims. Until you go to Phnom Penh and find them waiting for repatriation in the shelters there.

    (Question to ask – who do you think is funding these trainings? I’ll give you a hint. Lots comes from an organisation starting with US and ending with AID; but there are a couple of other western governments in the mix.)

    In Cambodia, an NGO i know of which dealt with dealt with a range of prostitution issue, including having a strong representation in child prostitution with a drop in centre from one day to the next shut their doors on the child prostitute arm, and restricted its assistance only to “trafficked” women and children – their funding was from USAID, who was restricting all funding for prostitution services in favour of support only for victims of trafficking. Anything else is called supporting the sex trade, apparently. Failure to comply could mean the loss of all funding. Where the money comes from and what are donor objectives are major issues for orgniasations, as their services need to fit with donor goals.

    We hear every day in the paper about busts on prostitutes; yet trafficked women get “rescued”. Prostitutes “ensnare” men; trafficked women are passive “victims”. And so it goes. There is a clear dichotomy in how society conceptualizes the two groups – here; in Asia; everywhere. There is always Madonna, there is always the whore. Such goes the patriarchal conceptualization of women – here played at its most primitive.

    Ciccina – I appreciate your passion a great deal. And absolutely, there are organisations that transcend these issues. I’m not familiar with the United States/Western operating context, and given the incredible difference in social context, I would imagine they have significantly more space to operate across boundaries.

    I’m very happy to continue this discussion with you, but please don’t call me ignorant again, or suggest I might want to “look into” what services are provided. I know this area very well, and I do hope I’ve been able to provide you with some useful insights into on the ground operations in at least one country. I’m more than happy to talk about it further, but it really gets my back out when people pull out the ignorant card when they disagree with what I’m saying. I hope you understand.

    Lastly – can deal with the UN in another post if you so desire. (insert emoticon here!)

  47. Ciccina

    @Jael

    I don’t think there is any question that the term “trafficking” refers to a specific series of actions and set of circumstances, and that the problem of trafficking has some features that have less to do with sex work and more to do with organized crime and displacement / migration issues.

    You write:

    “In Cambodia, an NGO i know of which dealt with dealt with a range of prostitution issue, including having a strong representation in child prostitution with a drop in centre from one day to the next shut their doors on the child prostitute arm, and restricted its assistance only to “trafficked” women and children – their funding was from USAID, who was restricting all funding for prostitution services in favour of support only for victims of trafficking. Anything else is called supporting the sex trade, apparently. Failure to comply could mean the loss of all funding. Where the money comes from and what are donor objectives are major issues for orgniasations, as their services need to fit with donor goals.”

    I think you may have misunderstood the policy, which was a special provision added to foreign aid by the Bush administration. The provision required all NGO recipients of US funds to sign a “pledge” that they did not “support” prostitution (I forget the exact wording). This had nothing to do with using the term “trafficked” to distinguish between morally worthy and unworthy women.

    The anti-prostitution pledge is similar to Reagan’s “Mexico City” policy, reenacted by Bush, that any clinic receiving US funds not provide information or services connected to abortion.

    When Bush brought back the policy, some NGOs opted to forgo US funds; and some changed their practices so they could continue to receive funds (and some, I imagine, just carried on the way they always had and hoped no one would notice).

    An NGO which stopped providing information and services about abortion did not change its position on abortion; rather, they made a painful choice to sacrifice some services so that others could continue. In the example you give, I suspect the relevant agency or government official opted to sign the pledge and discontinue work that could be seen as violating its terms in order to keep receiving US funds for its other programs.

    Like I said, these policies have nothing to do with separating the innocents from the fallen women. They are the work of conservative Catholics and evangelical Christians in the Bush administration accusing NGOs of promoting prostitution by giving sex workers condoms, etc. The Vatican in particular is constantly pressuring the US government to stipulate that development funds cannot be used to provide family planning services or supplies, including the distribution of condoms. They hate condoms, and they don’t want anyone to use them. As for the evangelicals, they tend to think that the short sharp shock does more to ‘rehabilitate’ a person than offers of help (which they see as enabling), so they want NGOs to ‘stop mollycoddling these criminals and instead send them to jail, where they belong.’

    But, much as they enjoy doing this, their intention is not to separate the madonnas from the whores; their intention was and is to shut down sexual and reproductive health services for all women and men and ‘stamp out’ prostitution.

    As for the “unintended” consequence of entirely shutting down programs for sex workers – many of these people could not care less. But I think the ideal vision was that NGOs would continue to help sex workers – by telling them to abstain, to pray, and to get married. Not coincidentally, this is exactly what Catholic NGOs like CARITAS do; obviously it puts them in a better position to receive aid than, for example, International Planned Parenthood Federation (which opted to refuse US funds rather than change their programs).

    I know of no European donor country that places such restrictions on development aid.

    Thus, my objection to your assertion that NGOs and governments use the term trafficking as code to distinguish madonna from whore, victim from criminal, worthy from unworthy in order to discriminate in providing services. Most NGOs are simply trying to provide services according to their mission and their own judgement of what is needed, while not running afoul of totally illogical policies attached to aid from a single donor country, by people who don’t know service provision from a hole in the ground and in some cases probably never even set foot outside the US.

    Programs supported by funds designated for anti-trafficking initiatives probably fly beneath their radar, and for all I know, come from a different funding stream. Or the programmers manage to avoid dealing with sexual and reproductive health.

    As for the context in Western countries, you write:

    “We hear every day in the paper about busts on prostitutes; yet trafficked women get “rescued”.”

    These *are* often two different things, and I still don’t think it has much to do with a patriarchal dichotomy. A 14 year-old American girl who is abducted, taken across state lines, drugged, beaten, held prisoner, and raped repeatedly by customers who pay for that privilege does indeed need to be rescued. The situation of a 21 year old American woman who is arrested for selling ‘extra’ services at a strip club, which is a job she hates but she does to support, for example, a drug habit, is something different. That woman is arrested for acts she voluntarily performs. Yes, she is ‘forced’ to do this by circumstances, but circumstances like drug addiction, too many mouths to feed, and history of sex abuse do not amount to ‘force’ as a matter of law. The situations are different. Now, if the woman was being forced to perform at the club by an abusive boyfriend or club owner that she’s convinced will kill her – yes, she needs rescuing. But then this magically transforms into a domestic violence issue – a whole different ball of wax.

  48. jael

    Ok. I’m going to keep this brief. I don’t think (many western) NGO’s distinguish between “good girls” and “bad girls” – what I’m saying is that it’s a product of the operating paradigm. You can want to do something and not be able to. Conditions in countries where social norms are very differnt from western ones – the situation is very different.

    My understanding of the US rule on support of sex services is irrelevant; I gave you an example of the phenomenon you asked for – trafficked women being supported at the expense of prostitutes. Again – product of the operating paradigm.

    I think it’s a reasonable statement that there will be a range of perspectives and approaches amongst NGO’s, as there are amongst individuals. The idea that NGO’s want X/do X/ support X is meaningless; there are a huge number of organizations who want a range of end results. If it helps, let me say again that I’m sure there are many organizations that work across the board.

    EU donors – same as every donor everywhere – set objectives for what they want to achieve. If this is dealing with “trafficking”, it is often at the expense of dealing with prostitution.

    As for your last paragraph: trafficking is not just about 14 year old kidnapped girls. There are actually a very few variables need to be changed to turn the second woman from a willing prostitute into a trafficked woman. That’s the thing. Trafficking is often painted as little girls and threats of death. More often than not, it’s not – it could be a piece of paper withheld or being lied too. (I can make up a whole range of hypothetical examples too, to illustrate my point if you like. That’s the nice thing about hypothetical examples – because you make them up they can be anything you want them to be.)

    Anyway – I don’t think we are actually disagreeing on anything, rather just not communicating our points well. If you think we are, let me know.

  49. figleaf

    Hi Jill. When you posted on Twitter a while back that you were reading this book I wondered what your take would be. All I can say is cool write up. The only thing I’d add to your write-up is that Agustín’s blind spot is that she’s got *way* more experience with migrant workers, including migrant sex-workers, and she’s so sick-to-death of people saying *those* people are trafficked she overlooks the (much smaller but still very real) numbers of people who actually really, truly are bought and sold for labor including sex labor.

    @Ciccina and @Jael: Cool to hear actual people who are doing actual work debate the issue. Not least because it’s pretty clear from the discussion that different regions see the same sets of rules come in and take sometimes very different actions.

    Jael’s right, by the way, that you have to be careful what you wish for WRT crazy activists. There are two primary groups that care, deeply and passionately and occasionally crazily, about trafficking. Only a very small subset of those activists are feminists. The vast bulk are… um… not. As Ciccina puts it the majority of legal, political, and financial backing comes from viscerally anti-women organizations like the Southern Baptist Convention, former Watergate burglar Chuck Colson, and various highly partisan neocons. Unlike feminist-minority activists their solution to prostitution and trafficking is and always has been for women to stay home (have I mentioned how extravagantly anti-immigration most of these guys — and they’re mostly guys — are?) get married or stay impoverished but virtuous virgins if most of the men in their villages have already migrated, and pray. Oh yeah, and convert to Christianity. Lest this seem affable and harmless, their single-minded obsession with trafficking for *commercial* sex work, their typical right-wing indifference to forced domestic, agricultural, and industrial labor, their indifference towards plain old sexual harassment, and their sentimental fetish for marriage means they’re nearly blind to forms of trafficking such as “mail order” or “foreign” brides who are effectively sold and delivered internationally to men, and domestic slaves who for whom sexually servicing their owners is only a “side” task to all their other forced, uncompensated duties.

    @polly sytrene: “Why not take up sex work? I hear it’s really lucrative.” I don’t *think* Agustín has actually done sex work but I do know she lives with, travels with, and usually subsists under the same conditions as other undocumented international migrants. (I’m not saying she hasn’t done some forms of sex work, I’m just saying I don’t know.) I’m also pretty sure she was a migrant before she became a researcher. I’m also pretty sure she doesn’t make a lot of money from her books, articles, and lectures.

    @delphyne: “I haven’t read Agustín’s examples of useless abolitionist ‘rescue’ efforts but usually it turns out that these are a figment of an overactive sex pozzie imagination rather than anything real and concrete.” One of the issues appears to be that “rescued” sex-workers in Southeast Asia, Sweden, and Italy, for example, are held in detention centers where they’re kept separated from their families (including their children), kept from working, or forced to remain in detention until they agree to testify against their customers, employers, or the people (too-often family members, as in SE Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and Haiti), forced to remain in detention until they’re deported back to the countries they originally migrated from.

    A year or so ago I corresponded with Agustín over the issue of forced trafficking. Ironically, because she works so closely with voluntary illegal-migrant communities she doesn’t actually have a lot of contact with real trafficked, enslaved, involuntary sex workers who a) definitely exist and really do need rescuing but b) don’t exist in very large numbers compared to the vast numbers of men and women who don’t need *rescuing* but *do* need other forms of help. Which, as she says over, and over, and over again include, oh, say, immigration reform, the right to migrate and work, and the right of whatever subset *chooses* to do sex work to receive the same legal rights and protections other “acceptable” forms of body-workers (massage therapists, orderlies, actors, dancers, janitors, pedicurists) can take for granted. And, for women, to have it recognized that they’re as capable as men are of making decisions to migrate out of dead-end hell-hole regions such as much of rural and exurban eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands, and the Americas. And of making conscious, informed choices to prefer work none of us would do (including sex work if *that’s what it takes*) to get a toe-hold in a new country. One thing that was clear from my correspondence with her wasn’t that “agency” means “fun-feminism sex work.” It was that agency meant the capacity to make decisions other human beings (a.k.a. men) routinely make without being patronized or *de*humanized as “debased” or “led astray.”

    She and I have our disagreements but she really is on the right side of things in the sense that she wants to see economic refugees and other migrants, including women who choose to migrate, to be recognized for what they are: human beings.

    figleaf

  50. jael

    figleaf – thanks. that was awesome.

  51. Beachin'

    Laura Agustin is sex trafficking’s version of a Holocaust denier. Check this out:
    http://contexts.org/socimages/2008/12/31/thinking-critically-about-sex-trafficking/

  52. No Blood for Hubris

    Look.

    If you have a choice, you choose the Lesser of the Evils presented.

    End Of Story.

    If you don’t have a choice, you Do What You Can.

    Any questions?

  53. birkwearingblamer

    M.Simon, I shouldn’t expect a dude who posts pictures of bikini clad women on his site to understand that no woman likes to be raped, whether paid for or not. Since you don’t get it, keep your fresh manly wisdom to yourself.

    Illusory choice is one of the favorite tools of the patriarchy.

  54. Jill

    I have removed M.Simon’s antifeminist comment. Pardon the inconvenience.

  55. Cathy

    Jael and Figleaf,

    I appreciate that it would be nice if women were treated as human beings, capable of making their own decisions, and weren’t patronized. But the sad fact is, most (perhaps all remaining) cultures treat women as subhuman, and far fewer options are available to them. We all need rescuing – from the P.

    Tigs, thank you for the comment about Angela Davis/Nat Turner. I agree that women who are able to resist becoming prostitutes are heroic, and those who do succumb should never be blamed, due to their miserable circumstances.

    You would think that organizations would be able to differentiate “trafficked” from “willing” by the amount of pay she receives. I refuse to believe that any girl who gets $10 per rape is in any way willing. She doesn’t get to choose between Harvard and Yale. All too often, hers is a choice of selling sex or prostituting herself some other way (marrying an abuser, working at WalMart, etc.)

  56. jael

    Cathy, wasn’t the world told the Afghan’s needed rescuing? And the Iraqis, from Sadam’s human rights abuses? Save us from good intentions. And even if you sincerely believe we all need rescuing, let me adamantly refuse any rescue effort conducted on my behalf. Look at that movie thread: what does everyone hate? Heroines that cannot rescue themselves. You know why? Because we know women can save themselves. (standard disclaimers on trafficked children and horror stories). Claiming that salvation is needed demeans us all; it exacerbates the patriarchal perspective of women as sub-human. (on the other hand, if we want to help women save themselves – that’s a whole different kettle of fish).

    And – How much you’re paid has nothing to do with it. Nadda. Naught. KaPut – unless it’s a deliberate withholding of payment in order to keep the trafficked person captive, or reduction of pay to a level that eliminates ones capacity to repay an initial loan. And i know, shudder to think, but there are lots of places in the world where $10 is a veritable fortune; a week, two weeks income at a hit. If you’re going to come up with a number that below which you refuse to believe anyone one would transact for, go with a proportion of per capita or average daily income or something; it makes a much more universal line in the sand.

    figleaf: the bought and sold for labour bit – where is that line drawn though? if immigration laws in the country of destination essentially keep a worker captive there (eg: malaysia), and they’ve taken out a large loan from an employment contractor to front for the fees – is that bought labour? it falls very throughly into the migrant worker category, but there are definitely features of captivity. Are they trafficked? Or just badly exploited? What about migrant brides? I’m with Auguistin in her frustrations on how the term “trafficked” is applied; I don’t think there are cases of trafficking per say – but often times these *are* designated as trafficked, the result of which is that real underlying issues are overlooked; and women in dramatic sex slavery situations are also short changed. They’re certainly problematic in their own way, but trafficking has become this coverall term – and that brings with it a whole new set of problems.

    But in the end, it’s always someone wanting to make $/to exploit/take advantage of someone else; trafficking, labour exploitation, captive labour, all of it. Humans are pathological, aren’t we?

  57. Cathy

    Jael, my comments are brief and may not have been clear. I am aware that $10 is a fortune in some places; I just pulled that number out of my ass since it seemed a teenager in California might accept that amount. It was not intended to be any line drawn in the sand. It was intended to be compared to the amount accepted by a “high end call girl” in Manhattan, which liberal dewds write about as if there were millions of them. They would probably be “willing,” in my opinion.

    I understand your point that acting like women always need rescuing because they’re so helpless is demeaning. My point is simply that saying, “It was her choice, leave her alone,” is assuming agency that she may not actually have. It seems like victim-blaming: “She made her bed, now let her sleep in it.” So often, very young girls are sucked in, since men seem to especially enjoy raping tiny virgins – how can a girl have made such a choice?

    The US made up BS about rescuing Afghans and Iraqis in order to get approval for their war plans. Ain’t no good intentions involved.

  58. Agasaya

    Dropping any pretense at political correctness, here is an assertion that women DO need rescuing. As do men and kids. The world is a violent, poisoned place and many of us are dying for just those reasons. “Rescue” of the self is not something many can accomplish entirely alone. In fact, the world considers lone women (absent husbands and kids) to be completely expendable. The custom of suttee wasn’t based upon grief but issues of economics. Those women could have stood rescuing as well.

    Do you know what it is to be hungry, live in a car, forgo medical care and realize that there is no one coming to the rescue because

    1. it is politically incorrect to assume help is needed because it might shame the individual OR

    2. it is politically incorrect to provide help even when asked because that is reducing someone’s autonomy?

    After all, isn’t help what official agencies are intended to accomplish?

    It really isn’t hard to know when help is needed. It’s really about how much we want to offer it.

  59. jael

    [quote] It really isn’t hard to know when help is needed. It’s really about how much we want to offer it. [/quote]

    The question, I would put to you Agasaya, is what help. At least, that is what I would have thought the crux of Auguistin’s book might have been interpreted as: it’s not “does the situation require intervention?” or “is it bad?”; rather, is the trafficking paradigm providing the most effective help to those that need it.

    Also; I’m talking about poor country trafficking – again (and again and again): it’s a very different dynamic what you seem to be talking about (though I’m not sure what the living in a car and forgoing medical help have to do with anything). Immigration reform is one way to drastically change the situation (help without rescuing) of millions of women wold wide, who could very easily end up in/are in a situation where they have been trafficked for sex. Other options : economic imp etc..

    Agh. I have to run out the door, I’m already late – but as quick as possible: i’m not suggesting that women who are *presently* in a captive situation be left where they are; I’m talking more preventative and reintegration options. This may be where we’re parting ways?

  60. Agasaya

    Hi Jael,

    I was broadening the concept of ‘captive’ because it is an applicable term to the situation of most women. The conversation was extending itself to prostitution in general and concepts of ‘agency’ within that category. The question, ‘is it bad?’ is not warranted because there is no case in which prostitution is actually a healthy choice for a woman. Perhaps the point of calling the offer of rescue a ‘demeaning’ action is more in line with a fear of having the offer refused? That should be left up to the individual receiving the offer.

    Offers of help should not be conditional upon the idea that it is not needed in such cases. There is an inherent harm inflicted upon anyone trading their body for material or psychological gain (for status in society). Refusal of help is generally seen in people who didn’t have it at the crucial point when first experiencing such subjugation. It becomes normal, expected and useless to protest so ‘agency’ in such a case becomes self-empowering within that paradigm. Hence, collaborators within the system are born.

    Sorry if I am not being clear.

    A second form of ‘captivity’ exists among those unaffiliated with some form of family constellation or business. They are extraneous to society and also wind up without the protection of the ‘herd’. Without ‘belonging’ to someone (women as chattel), captivity continues because no one personally benefits/profits from their status as either sources of sexual gratification or as ‘placeholders’ within a household or business network. The woman becomes functionless in society. Have you seen what happens when women without children apply for welfare? The hazards of women using shelters? Taken to its extreme, you have the practice of ‘suttee’, as mentioned in my prior post.

    An absence of function according to the ideology of the ‘P’, is another form of captivity for women. It is only freedom (‘another word for nothing left to lose’?) when adequate resources exist to maintain one’s solitary journey outside of the system. A rare situation.

    Certainly, physical captivity as in conventionally defined trafficking, is an international horror which requires governmental interventions. Where it is an obvious condition, certainly authorities must free the individual. The question remains, where and in what condition would they be ‘freed’ to reside? Immigration reform would have to include a provision for declaring women to be eligible for political asylum in societies where their sexual abuse is legislated (as in Afghanistan) or endemic to the region (rape as a weapon of war). That is the only scenario in which these women won’t have to choose to trade their bodies for a transfer to another shore. It still doesn’t mean that prostitution won’t be their only option once they arrive there, in one form or another.

    Where will aid come from? Oppressed groups have always had to organize their own means for winning freedom through private channels and organizations until they could become publicly endorsed and supported. From underground railroads to labor unions, ‘captive’ individuals have been supported. Asking if rescue is needed just delays action.

  1. Further thoughts on the ‘sex positive’ response to prostitution « Anti-Porn Feminists

    [...] Radical Feminism, sex positive trackback Following on from this post, and after reading this post and its comments thread (which lead me to the material for this quote of the day) at IBTP, and [...]

  2. Beware the extension of porn culture « Queering the Singularity

    [...] not the future I want to see. Mainstream porn is horribly misogynistic and part of that global human rights crisis know as the patriarchy. While sexbots could theoretically improve things be taking over from human [...]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>