Exploration of a Disciplinary Construct for Prevention of Violence Against Sex Trade Workers

4 07 2009

Laura M. Agustin’s summary of her paper from the September 2001 issue of Society for International Development explores several factors associated with a disciplinary attitude towards prostitution that have important implications for the well-being of sex trade workers.

  • Criminalization of clients who purchase sex services – “prisons rarely rehabilitate offenders against the law” and that sexual offenses are hard to prove in court with legal advice often finding loopholes in which the client can escape. This mode of action has failed for over 200 years in North America and Europe but there are still proponents for this particular “solution”. There is also no evidence that informing people of what kind of punishment a particular sexual offence will net deters individuals from performing that act.
  • “International regulations on trafficking and sexual exploitation” – The language used in these regulations appear to further the belief that women and children are always easily fooled into being “trafficked” while men are more savvy and are treated as a “contraband” to be smuggled. While the language used to described the movement of migrants may be trivial, the attitudes behind these regulations are not. There may also be cases where working as a sex trade worker in a developed nation is preferable to staying in one’s home nation. Naturally, if someone is being exploited, we must help them. However, current structures insist that law enforcement officers paint all migrant sex trade workers with one brush and this does not help the women at all. An obvious result is that migrant women who have suffered abuses will not come forward to the police.
  • The market for sexual services – abolishing the sex trade is impossible from the viewpoint of demand meeting supply. A Spanish NGO estimated in 1996 that there are 1 million clients who purchase sex services a day in Spain. It is likely that there will always be a demand. If prostitution is criminalized, it will only be driven underground and become more lucrative for individuals who now decide to enter the market. Similar to the point above, sex workers who find themselves in abusive situations will not be able to seek help for fear of incarceration.

Agustin  argues that viewing prostitution under the construct that all prostitution is “sexual exploitation” removes the possibility of “voluntary” prostitution. She also argues that the current view of prostitution itself as being a crime results in the punishment for the offending parties. Agustin’s conclusion is that punishment is ineffective for curtailing violence against women in the sex trade and does more harm than good.