A ‘course’ on trafficking with only one hurdle

Following up on the issue of misuse of academic status and questionable credentials, last year she included a piece of my writing in the syllabus of a course at the University of Rhode Island called Human Trafficking and Contemporary Slavery. Mine appears to be the only reading not taking an avidly ‘anti-trafficking’ stance. The goals for learning about the week’s topic, Analyses of Sex Trafficking & Prostitution, were:  ‘Read different analyses and perspectives on sex trafficking and prostitution from different philosophical and analytical perspectives: Christian, feminist, psychological, and economic migrant workers rights.’ This sounds good, but here is the list of readings:

Enslaved in America, Tina Frundt
A Christian Perspective on Sexual Trafficking, Lisa Thompson
Prostitution and Male Supremacy: A Feminist Analysis, Andrea Dworkin
Working in the European Sex Industry: Migrant Possibilities, Laura Agustín
The Swedish Law that Prohibits the Purchase of Sexual Services, Gunilla Ekberg
Survivors of Trafficking and Prostitution Manifesto
Not Sex Work

I believe all the other pieces are fundamentally against prostitution per se and against the idea of sex work as work ever. In that case, students are not getting a rounded view of the varying ways to think about the issues. My piece is anthropological, an exposition of what I’d learned through spending years hanging out/doing research with migrants who sell sex. I wrote it at the request of the editor of a Madrid migration journal who asked for an article about migrants who sell sex that would be free of moralising. I agreed without for a moment imagining the enormous conflict that would arise when I turned in what to me seemed to be a harmless, purely descriptive piece. You can read more about that drama in this piece today on Harlot’s Parlour.

The following section is, I’m told, what totally winds up certain people – theory and background information apart. It’s from ‘Working in the European Sex Industry: Migrant Possibilities,’ Laura Agustín, translated from the original ‘Trabajar en la industria del sexo’, OFRIM/Suplementos, June 2000. This piece wins me endless emails from kids in Latin America looking for employment, by the way.

‘If we look at the description of what constitutes the industry, we find possible jobs as a telephone worker, in which the client is not even seen. Or as a striptease artist, which in many places involves dancing nude and nothing more. Even if we talk about ‘full sex’, it isn’t the same doing it for a pornographic film as in a brothel (or, for example, with clients of sexologists. Obviously, they are different jobs, some carried out in bars, others in houses, offices or examination rooms. In some the worker controls the situation and the hours more; in others he lacks control. Some are well paid, others not. Some services seem easy to perform to some people, while to others they seem difficult. The boss or owner of the place may be the most important element in some jobs. In short, everything depends on the specific situation. It’s the same if we look at the many forms of physical/sexual contact, of serving the client. [5] Obviously, performing oral sex on a client in a car or in an alley in the rain is not the same as spending a shift inside a club with heating, where you talk and have drinks as well as sex with clients. We can however point out some necessary abilities for carrying out these jobs well, that is, in the most efficient and less problematic manner. In general terms:

• The essence of the work is giving pleasure to others. The worker who doesn’t want to or can’t do this, no matter how good-looking, will fail. The client wants to feel some kind of pleasure.

• As in other service work, the ability to relate to others is very important. To know how to listen ‘actively’, negotiate, encourage, read the body language of the other, sense what is not said and the psychology of the other. To judge when the other is not all right (and not to confuse this with physical appearance). Capacity to smooth situations and calm violent people, confronting or manipulating them. Also necessary for those who work over the telephone.

• Ability to relate to and come to appreciate people from other cultures or ethnic groups or with values different from one’s own. Diplomacy. Clients may be rejected, but income is lost. Being able to imagine the situation of the other, as much through what he wants to hide as through what he reveals. Understanding more than one language.

• Knowing oneself well is extremely important in sex work. Knowing how to use the body sexually and how to take care of oneself, minimising infections, strains and exhaustion, whether physical, emotional or spiritual. It’s necessary to know when one is tired or with little desire to work, because states of neglect often lead to danger. Self-esteem is essential.

• The worker needs a lack of shame about bodies. To be able to talk about sex and show sexual things. A good sense of humour helps.

• As with the jobs of nurses and stewardesses, it is essential to give the client the sensation that he really is desired, that giving him pleasure or taking care of him matters. This is also necessary for cultivating a loyal clientele, one that comes back.

• Often the client wants to talk about his life: problems in his marriage, with his children or at his job. He may have lost his wife or need counseling. The ability to satisfy this type of desire or to want to help to resolve the problems of others is part of sex work. Sometimes this kind of attention matters even more than sex to the client.

• Knowing how to put limits, control what happens and protect oneself from excessive demands. Being able to maintain boundaries with client, who may have many emotional needs.

• Knowing how to sell is key, including over the telephone and in written messages (electronic mail, chat, mobile phones). Seduction is an art that few command, which helps explain the high status of courtesans and geishas in the past. Nowadays transsexuals are often most famous for knowing how to seduce.

• For people who work on their own or have a business it is fundamental to know how to manage funds: accounting, taxes and investments. Knowing how to negotiate, decide on prices.

• The ability to manage, organise and oversee a business is necessary in whatever level the worker works. Working freelance can be done successfully only by someone with the self-discipline to evaluate his efforts and manage his time.

• When employed in someone else’s business, workers need the talent of being able to please the boss or owner as well as the client, who often demand contrary things (for example, to the boss it matters that the work is done rapidly, while the client wants more personal attention).

• If one dances or performs, it’s essential to stay in good shape and act with confidence. Knowing how to take advantage of one’s own good points. Knowing how to dress and make up according to the situation.

• Much of sex work is performance: it’s necessary to know how to present oneself, project oneself and play roles. An example: the stereotype exists of ‘passive’ Asian women, so, for an Asian woman, knowing how to play the passive role may be a key talent. If one works in domination or submission, one needs to know how to create scenes, act, involve and convince the client. Knowing how to flirt.

• The client is not necessarily of the same gender or ‘sexual orientation’ that the worker wants for his or her own partner. Thought of another way, the worker’s personal taste does not have to match what he does at work: a lesbian can work with men, a heterosexual with gays, a transsexual with heterosexuals, a homosexual man with women and so on. In the world of the sex industry, flexibility and ambiguity in tastes and desires are the norm; binary visions (like masculinity/feminity or passivity/activity cease to be very useful.

• Since it’s a market, one needs the ability to compete, create new services and change with the times. Inventing new ways to make money, using new technologies and trying to match services to desires.

• Sexual knowledge is fundamental to carrying out the work. Knowing how to stimulate bodies to produce pleasure, delay or precipitate orgasms and judge the sexual capacity of the other. Moreover there are many tricks that make the job easier for the person who knows them: putting condoms on without clients’ knowing, feigning penetration and many others. Often it’s necessary to teach principles of sexual health to improve the client’s experience: masturbatory techniques, self-control or permitting oneself ‘forbidden’ acts. It’s important to point out that not every client is the confident man of the machista stereotype; many feel shy, ashamed or incapable. There are prostitutes who specialise in therapeutic srvices with disabled people. As for education to avoid sexual illnesses, being able to convince clients that they can enjoy sex with condoms is an important talent.

• One can choose the services one wants to offer, whether oral or manual sex or vaginal or anal penetration. Moreover, in times of ‘safer sex’, less ‘classical’ forms are being accepted, such as mutual masturbation.

• Being able to offer massage, reflexology and other therapies offer more possibilities to make money.

• Working in the production of pornography, it’s possible to learn techniques of photography, video, etc.

• If one works via the Internet, one needs knowledge of computers, email, chat, databases and the construction of webpages.

• If one becomes a supervisor or even owner of a sex club or escort agency, one learns to deal with the necessities of the personnel, encouraging them to work well.’

The whole piece can be read here.

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