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  • Writer's pictureHilary Caldwell

No disclaimers for trafficked women

Updated: Sep 18, 2018

This post has been created to be a reference point for all future posts which do not use disclaimers to defend the needs of trafficked women (and children).

There is no doubt that trafficking of persons happens in our world. There is no doubt that a relatively small percentage of these people are trafficked for sex. Some of the victims of sex trafficking are women and children. These are abhorrent crimes and must be stopped. I do not know of any person who denies or condones sex trafficking.

The reason for this blog post is to disassociate sex trafficking with the adult consensual sex industry. The political motivation to conflate sex trafficking with mainstream sex industry is to inflate numbers of victims for donation and political favour, and to attempt to abolish the sex industry based on (un) feminist, moral or religious opinion.

sexual services should be seen as a form of sexual violence which is concealed, through the act of payment, as consensual sex (Jeffreys, 1997)

Why? Consensual sex is not violent. Women (this argument is rarely used to describe male sex workers), can consent to sex for any reason they like. They can consent to sex in exchange for some emotional support, help around the house, or be perfectly honest and ask for money. Jeffrey's stand considers sex as something that should not be commodified, a religious or moral argument, which is fine as long as she understands this as an opinion. An opinion which others may not agree with. Jeffrey describes her opinion as a feminist one. She believes that women would not consent to commercial sex unless they were in dire circumstances imposed by the patriarchy.

Almost all sex workers in Australia chose the work they do. Some describe themselves as survival sex workers, much like many cleaners who only do their job for money. But unlike cleaners, the percentages of trafficked women who are sex workers are lower. Trafficking rates are highest in hospitality, domestic services and seasonal labour. We don't characterise other professions by their rates of trafficking.

It is unfeminist to conflate consensual sex with trafficking

Most people do not want to be sex workers and imagine others to be the same. However, when women do chose to be sex workers, trying to stop them is most unfeminist. Trying to shame or criminalise sex worker's customers (assumed to be male) is a paternalistic attempt to save (female) sex workers from their decision to do sex work. Trying to abolish the sex industry assumes sex workers need saving.

My research found Australian contemporary discourse to be fairly equally polarised when regarding commercial sex as work or exploitation. Political and ideological pressure to conflate the sex industry with sex trafficking has been particularly successful in the US, where foreign aid is linked to a commitment to abolish the sex industry. Large amounts of money are involved in sex trafficking which relies on high numbers of victims and on shaming commercial sexual acts. Some estimates have asserted the global 'rescue industry' to be worth more than the sex industry. The stakes are high. Of the people examined in my research, about half of Australians buy into the aggressive, dishonest, and very unscientific strategies of those in the rescue industry who conflate adult consensual commercial sex with the abhorrent crime of sex trafficking. And, half the comments examined recognised sex work as work.

Where to from here?

If you are challenged by the idea that people choose sex work, consider why you might do so. Read some sex worker writings. Try to consider other world views. And don't expect that any writing about the sex industry must include disclaimers about sex trafficking. Because sex trafficking is not sex work and nothing to do with it.

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