RE: Question about terms

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Heidi Doezema (
Tue, 18 Aug 1998 17:48:59 +0100

-----Original Message-----
From: []
Sent: 17 August 1998 17:31
To: Multiple recipients of list
Subject: Re: Question about terms

Dear Lacey: Good question. I would like the answer myself. I believe we
started with a discussion of trafficking of women for the purpose of
them into a life of forced prostitution, and them we got into a discussion
voluntary sex work on the part of women (and some men) who make this a
"profession" or occupation and wish to migrate to different countries for
greater opportunities and/or better working conditions. The subjects are
related, but different in their prospective. From the subject of
(forced) prostitution to the subject of other forms of sexual and
exploitation of women was an easy step. There is also trafficking in women
for the purpose of turning them unwillingly into underpaid, or unpaid,
domestic service. There is also trafficing in women for the purpose of
There seems to be an endless list of connected topics. Is marriage in
a form of prostitution when the woman has no civil rights, or fewer civil
rights, as a wife than her spouse has as a husband? Etc., etc. Let me
if you get a clear answer to your question, and who you get it from.
Meanwhile, welcome to the discussion.

Hello all,

I feel I very much need to address the split that is being advocated by
some members of this list between 'trafficking and forced prostitution' and
'voluntary sex work'. I believe this distinction is inherently flawed and
reflects and reinforces the divide between 'madonnas' and 'whores'. An
example-where would advocates of only talking about forced, involuntary
prostitution suggest that a woman who was aware she was going to migrate to
work in the sex industry, but became involved in a situation of debt
bondage, be discussed? What about a 'voluntary' sex worker who migrates to
work in the sex industry, is caught, arrested and deported, then jailed
when she gets home-as happened recently in Thailand? Are her issues
different or less important than those of an 'innocent' trafficking victim?
As these examples show, 'victims' and 'volunteers', are in practice, not
easy to distinguish from each other. And should we be distinguishing
anyway? A favorite tactic of the defense in 'trafficking' trials is to
discredit the victim by showing that she was sexually promiscuous or worked
as a prostitute. Doesn't that sound awfully familiar from rape cases?
Feminists have made great strides in arguing that a woman's sexual history
should have no bearing on the way crimes against her are judged. Yet in
many countries, a woman's sexual purity is still the benchmark against
which the severity of 'trafficking' will be measured. In Germany, for
instance, it is considered to be less of a crime to force a woman who is
'near to being a prostitute'. It seems pretty clear to me that when we talk
about 'trafficking', we must consider all women who experience violations
of their human rights when migrating for work in the sex industry, domestic
industry, or marriage, whether or not they are sex workers, knew they were
going to be sex workers, or had no idea they were going to work in the sex
Let me just be clear that by this I am not suggesting that it isn't
possible to choose to work in the sex industry, and absolutely believe that
sex work should be recognised as legitimate labour.

If anyone is more interested in a sex worker rights perspective on why we
need to stop making a false distinction between 'victims' and 'volunteers',
here's some stuff to read:

Trafficking in Women, Forced Labour and Slavery-Like Practices in Marriage,
Domestic Labour and Prostitution, by Marjan Weijers and Lin-Lap Chew
(1997). Its published in Utrecht the Netherlands, by The Foundation Against
Trafficking in Women (STV) and the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in
Women (GAATW). Read in particular the section in chapter two
(I believe) called 'From coercion to even with her consent'

My own, Alison Murray's and Kamala Kempadoo's papers in Global Sex Workers:
Rights, Resistance and Redefinition, edited by me and Kamala Kempadoo.
Publisher is Routledge (1998)

Jo Doezema

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