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.



Pro- vs. Anti-Prostitution

3 07 2009

Before trying to dive into the search for innovative solutions to mitigate the problem of violence against sex trade workers, I’d like to comment on the controversy that surrounds the topic of prostitution.

woman on street

In my research on the topic of violence against sex trade workers, I have come across different points of view on this topic. At one end, there is the religious right, for which prostitution is immoral, perpetrators should be punished, women who have fallen off the path of purity should be reformed, etc. On the other end, there are sex-positive feminists who, as one would expect, denounce the exploitation of women but accept that the choice to enter the sex trade belongs to the individual and that sometimes, due to barriers to employment, there really is no other “choice”.

A surprising find was that of feminists on the far edges of the left who believe that anyone working in prostitution is automatically a victim. In her 2004 paper ““RESCUED FOR THEIR OWN GOOD”: THE REALITY OF PROSTITUTION LAW ENFORCEMENT AND THE ABUSE OF PROSTITUTES BY THOSE PAID TO PROTECT THEM“, Norma Jean Almodovar talks about how individuals who have seemingly made it their life’s work to “save” prostitutes have made the lives of these women much harder. The list of these individuals include the following:

From my readings, it seems that what these individuals had in common was the desire to save women from themselves or “for their own good”.

Though I felt that a brief background into the controversy was necessary, our blog is not here to make a judgement on survival sex trade workers. It is also not to say that they are victims who need to be saved. Our blog’s main message, though, is “Yes, prostitution exists and violence against prostitutes occurs far too often. This violence needs to be stopped“.

This situation is getting out of control and only came to light for the general public in Vancouver when Robert Pickton was arrested as a serial killer who preyed on women in the DTES. There have been disapearances since then but since the publicity associated with the trial is over, these women who have gone missing have become an afterthought. Again.