Getting Mainstream Attention – Judging Trafficking Evidence

I finally got the attention of a mainstream-type blog, an interesting one called Sociological Images: Seeing is Believing. This site shows all kinds of pictures and asks people to (sociologically) consider the assumptions they embody. I sent them the link to my recent post called  Sex trafficking v Prostitution: How do we judge the evidence? because it gives a video that purports to show television-news audiences an instance of sex trafficking.

The video is actually hilarious and well worth a visit, as the intrepid girl reporter, all dressed up in safari gear, bravely watches prostitutes through binoculars, whispering her comments dramatically. But more important is the amazing LACK of evidence in the video itself, which just shows men and women in a field somewhere. As I say in the post, we might be seeing an outdoor brothel but we are given no evidence of trafficking because we don’t get to hear what any of the women say (or the men, for that matter).

I’ve been trying for some time to figure out how to question the evidence about victims and sex without participating in the impossible battle of statistics, where no one agrees about what the basic words mean in the first place.  So it feels significant that Sociological Images gave the post a good spread, and called it Thinking Critically about Sex Trafficking, and it might be a good idea to visit the site and reinforce some of the message.  The blog is one of a bunch of sociological ones clustered at Contexts.org, which means talking to folks who are often fairly clueless about the sex industry.

Laura Agustín

Demand: Clients who want to know who’s free

I receive requests from clients asking how they can distinguish between coerced or trafficked sex workers and those more or less freely on the game. Given all the anti-demand and hate-men projects around, it’s a fair question. And, obviously, sensible clients don’t want to be told to just ask the sex workers themselves. Some say that they have met women they believed worked voluntarily, but afterwards it turned out they had been forced into it.

It’s easy to snicker at re-education projects like Johns’ Schools and say what seems obvious, which is that anyone who gets picked up while negotiating with a worker in the street probably just turns to another area of the sex industry, such as the Internet or indoor venues like massage parlours. And I don’t want to exaggerate, as some might, the significance of clients who help rescue people in trouble, but I did write about this once long ago: They Speak, but Who Listens?

The UK’s Home Secretary has proposed legislation not criminalising all buying of sex – the so-called Swedish Model – but only the buying of services from people ‘controlled for another’s gain’, which I wrote about in the Guardian recently in The Shadowy World of Sex Across Borders. And which, I learned yesterday in Copenhagen, is the Finnish Model.

In this context, I would like to come up with some advice to clients. I’m wondering what other working people advise, since I tend to think that any client genuinely worried about this should stop paying human beings for sex and move onto some other form of commercial pleasure. Why? Because, as I write ad infinitum, it is vexingly difficult to distinguish levels of will and choice, except at the extremes of the continuum where pure freedom and pure slavery supposedly exist.
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Laura Agustín’s new blog: Border Thinking

Laura Agustín, author of the must-read Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry, has re-vamped her website and launched it as a blog with much-needed international perspectives on migration, culture, economy and sex. Check out Border Thinking.

Here are some of the recent posts:

Interivew on Trafficking

Susie Bright interviews Laura Agustín, author of Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labor Markets and the Rescue Industry.