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redup2The idea of criminalising the purchase of sex continues to be promoted round the world, usually as part of some politician’s campaign against immoral sex and the exploitation of children, with a subtext aimed at keeping women at home and migrants out. Sweden’s law is thrown out as the model, along with claims that prostitution is practically absent and trafficking nearly non-existent there. Neither of these has been proven. To explore this sort of claim, see tags to the right of this post (sweden, nordic model, laws, gender equality, for example.)

The banning-sex-purchase proposal has been made in countries as far away from Sweden as Brazil and India. Presented abstractly it sounds clear, simple and righteous. But local context and history make a big difference in how a proposed law can come to pass and operate on the ground (as opposed to in starry rhetoric). The Swedish context is unusual in the world, the conditions making this law (sexköpslagen) possible difficult to imagine outside the Nordic region. Nothing slapdash nor sudden was involved but rather deep history in a particular culture. This is not true of other countries that jump on the bandwagon because some politicians see their chance to make names based on simplistic moralising.

The following is an excerpt from a longer article I published a few months ago on the dysfunction of prostitution laws, the idea of whore stigma and the disqualification and actual murder of sex workers. For those who ask Where did the Swedish model come from? How could feminism have led to it? this provides a short version of what might be called an épistème – the epistemological field forming the conditions of possibility for knowledge in a given time and place.

Sweden and prostitution (from Prostitution Law and the Death of Whores, Jacobin, 15 August 2013)

The population of only nine and a half million is scattered over a large area, and even the biggest city is small. In Sweden’s history, social inequality (class differences) was early targeted for obliteration; nowadays most people look and act middle-class. The mainstream is very wide, while social margins are narrow, most everyone being employed and/or supported by various government programmes. Although the Swedish utopia of Folkhemmet – the People’s Home – was never achieved, it survives as a powerful symbol and dream of consensus and peace. Most people believe the Swedish state is neutral if not actually benevolent, even if they recognize its imperfections.

After the demise of most class distinctions, inequality based on gender was targeted (racial/ethnic differences were a minor issue until recent migration increases). Prostitution became a topic of research and government publications from the 1970s onwards. By the 1990s, eradicating prostitution came to be seen as a necessary condition for the achievement of male-female equality and feasible in a small homogeneous society. The solution envisioned was to prohibit the purchase of sex, conceptualized as a male crime, while allowing the sale of sex (because women, as victims, must not be penalized). The main vehicle was not to consist of arrests and incarcerations but a simple message: In Sweden we don’t want prostitution. If you are involved in buying or selling sex, abandon this harmful behavior and come join us in an equitable society.

Since the idea that prostitution is harmful has infused political life for decades, to refuse to accept such an invitation can appear misguided and perverse. To end prostitution is not seen as a fiat of feminist dictators but, like the goal to end rape, an obvious necessity. To many, prostitution also seems incomprehensibly unnecessary in a state where poverty is so little known.

These are the everyday attitudes that social workers coming into contact with Eva-Maree probably shared. We do not know the details of the custody battle she had been locked in for several years with her ex-partner. We do not know how competent either was as a parent. She recounted that social workers told her she did not understand she was harming herself by selling sex. There are no written guidelines decreeing that prostitutes may not have custody of their children, but all parents undergo evaluations, and the whore stigma could not fail to affect their judgements. For the social workers, Eva-Maree’s identity was spoiled; she was discredited as a mother on psycho-social grounds. She had persisted in trying to gain mother’s rights and made headway with the authorities, but her ex-partner was enraged that an escort could gain any rights and did all he could to impede her seeing them. The drawn-out custody process broke down on the day she died, since standard procedures do not allow disputing parents to meet during supervised visits with children.

In a 2010 report evaluating the law criminalizing sex-purchase, stigma is mentioned in reference to feedback they received from some sex workers:

The people who are exploited in prostitution report that criminalization has reinforced the stigma of selling sex. They explain that they have chosen to prostitute themselves and feel they are not being involuntarily exposed to anything. Although it is not illegal to sell sex they perceive themselves to be hunted by the police. They perceive themselves to be disempowered in that their actions are tolerated but their will and choice are not respected.

The report concludes that these negative effects “must be viewed as positive from the perspective that the purpose of the law is indeed to combat prostitution.” To those haunted by the death of Eva-Maree, the words sound cruel, but they were written for a document attempting to evaluate the law’s effects. Evaluators had been unable to produce reliable evidence of any kind of effect; an increase in stigma was at least a consequence.

Has this stigma discouraged some women from selling sex who might have wanted to and some men from buying? Maybe, but it is a result no evaluation could demonstrate. The report, in its original Swedish 295 pages, is instead composed of historical background, repetitious descriptions of the project and administrative detail. Claims made later that trafficking has diminished under the law are also impossible to prove, since there are no pre-law baseline statistics to compare to.

The lesson is not that Sweden’s law caused a murder or that any other law would have prevented it. Whore stigma exists everywhere under all prostitution laws. But Sweden’s law can be said to have given whore stigma a new rationality for social workers and judges, the stamp of government approval for age-old prejudice. The ex-partner’s fury at her becoming an escort may derive in part from his Ugandan background, but Sweden did not encourage him to view Eva-Maree more respectfully.

Some say her murder is simply another clear act of male violence and entitlement by a man who wanted her to be disqualified from seeing their children. According to that view, the law is deemed progressive because it combats male hegemony and promotes Gender Equality. This is what most infuriates advocates of sex workers’ rights: that the “Swedish model” is held up as virtuous solution to all of the old problems of prostitution, in the absence of any evidence. But for those who embrace anti-prostitution ideology, the presence or absence of evidence is unimportant.

***

Some of the immediate questions you might have, for instance on Gender Equality and State Feminism, are addressed in the full essay Prostitution Law and the Death of Whores. This kind of background is, of course, not interesting to everyone, and most of what I see on the topic talks about the law as Bad or Good. Discussions typical in parliamentary committees like the Irish are silly because they opt to accept banal lists of supposed successes in Sweden without acknowledging the difficulties of knowing effects at all. Activists on both sides tend to over-state their cases – practically the definition of much activism in social movements. For anyone interested in history, though, the background is crucial, and it can be seen as good news that it’s not so easy to simply transfer the logic of a law from one country to another: that kind of homogenised culture is not here yet.

Proof of the law’s effects are mostly unknowable so far. The state’s evaluation of the law in 2010 admitted ignorance of how to investigate commercial sex online and gave numbers only for street prostitution. This was a tiny number to begin with describing an activity that is diminishing. Claims that sex trafficking have decreased are meaningless since no baseline statistics were kept on this before the law was passed. The claims of eradicating either phenomenon are public-relations trivia. That politicians in other countries reproduce these claims in supposedly serious hearings demonstrates mediocrity and lack of interest in the subject. As I said above, the principle effect we can be sure of is

Sweden’s law can be said to have given whore stigma a new rationality for social workers and judges, the stamp of government approval for age-old prejudice.

Increases in stigma, social death and excuses to disqualify women who sell sex as autonomous beings are dire effects to a piece of legislation that emerged from a goal to achieve Gender Equality. Utopian visions can backfire, and this one has.

For another of my views of Sweden’s present State Feminists see Extremist Feminism in Swedish government: Something Dark

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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This essay ran first in Jacobin and was picked up by Salon and given a different title. Comments on the different slants to come soon.

Prostitution Law and the Death of Whores

Laura Agustín, Jacobin, 15 August 2013

It doesn’t matter which political direction you come from: the topics of sex work, sexual exploitation, prostitution and sex trafficking seem like a veritable Gordian Knot. As long as you listen to one set of advocates and take their evidence in good faith, you are okay. But the minute you listen to another set of advocates with different arguments and evidence, everything falls apart. The way these subjects intersect leads to untenable contradictions that make progress seem impossible. Hand-wringing and ideological free-for-alls predominate.

Twenty years ago I first asked two questions that continue to unsettle me today. The first is answerable: What does a woman who sells sex accomplish that leads to her being treated as fallen, beyond the pale, incapable of speaking for herself, discountable if she does speak, invisible as a member of society? The answer is she carries a stigma. The second question is a corollary: Why do most public conversations focus on laws and regulations aimed at controlling these stigmatized women rather than recognizing their agency? To that the answer is not so straightforward.

I am moved to make this assessment after the murder of someone I knew, Eva-Maree Kullander Smith, known as Jasmine. Killed in Sweden by an enraged ex-partner, Eva-Maree was also a victim of the social death that befalls sex workers under any name you choose to call them. Immediately after the murder, rights activists cursed the Swedish prostitution law that is promoted everywhere as best for women. My own reaction was a terrible sinking feeling as I realized how the notion of a Rescue Industry, named during my research into the “saving” of women who sell sex, was more apt than even I had thought.

Murders of sex workers are appallingly frequent, including serial killings. In Vancouver, BC, Robert Pickton killed as many as 26 between 1996 and 2001 before police cared enough to do anything about it. Gary Ridgeway, convicted of killing 49 women in the 1980s-90s in the state of Washington, said, “I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.” Infamous statements from police and prosecutors include the Attorney General’s at Peter Sutcliffe’s 1981 trial for the murder of at least 13 women in the north of England: “Some were prostitutes, but perhaps the saddest part of this case is that some were not.” He could say this because of a ubiquitous belief that the stigma attached to women who sell sex is real – that prostitutes really are different from other women.

My focus on the female is deliberate. All who propose prostitution policy are aware that men sell sex, but they are not concerned about men, who simply do not suffer the disgrace and shame that fall on women who do it.

Stigma and disqualification

Many people have only a vague idea what the word stigma means. It can be a mark on a person’s body – a physical trait, or a scarlet letter. It can result from a condition like leprosy, where the person afflicted could not avoid contagion. About his selection of victims Sutcliffe said he could tell by the way women walked whether or not they were sexually “innocent”.

Stigma can also result from behaviors seen to involve choice, like using drugs. For Erving Goffman, individuals’ identities are “spoiled” when stigma is revealed. Society proceeds to discredit the stigmatized – by calling them deviants or abnormal, for example. Branded with stigma, people may suffer social death – nonexistence in the eyes of society – if not physical death in gas chambers or serial killings.

In the late 1990s I wondered why a migrant group that often appeared in media reports and was well-known to me personally was absent from scholarly migration literature. I came to understand that migrant women who sell sex were disqualified as subjects of migration, in some perhaps unconscious process on the part of scholars and journal editors. Was the stigma attached to selling sex so serious that it was better not to mention these migrants at all? Or did people think that the selling of sex must transport anything written about it to another realm, such as feminism? When I submitted an article to a migration journal addressing this disqualification, The Disappearing of a Migration Category: Women Who Sell Sex, two and a half years passed before its publication, probably because the editor could locate no peer reviewers willing to deal with my ideas.

Of the many books on prostitution I read back then, most dismissed the possibility that women who sell sex can be rational, ordinary, pragmatic and autonomous. The excuses followed a pattern: The women didn’t understand what they were doing because they were uneducated. They suffered from false consciousness, the failure to recognize their own oppression. They were addicted to drugs that fogged their brains. They had been seduced by pimps. They were manipulated by families. They were psychologically damaged, so their judgements were faulty. If they were migrants they belonged to unenlightened cultures that gave them no choices. They were coerced and/or forced by bad people to travel, so they weren’t real migrants, and their experiences didn’t count. Because they were brainwashed by their exploiters, nothing they said could be relied on. This series of disqualifications led to large lacunae in social-scientific literature and mainstream media, showing the power of a stigma that has its very own name – whore stigma. Given these women’s spoiled identities, others feel called to speak for them.

Rescue Industry, legal regimes and stigma

The person in a helping profession or campaign is said to embody the good in humanity – benevolence, compassion, selflessness. But helpers assume positive identities far removed from those spoiled by stigma, and benefits accrue to them: prestige and influence for all and employment and security for many. Many believe that helpers always know how to help, even when they have no personal experience of the culture or political economy they intervene in. What I noted was how, despite the large number of people dedicated to saving prostitutes, the situation for women who sell sex never improves. The Construction of Benevolent Identities by Helping Women Who Sell Sex was the key that unlocked my understanding of the Rescue Industry.

Abolitionists talk continuously about prostitution as violence against women, set up projects to rescue sex workers and ignore the dysfunctionality of much that is conceived as “rehabilitation”. Contemporary abolitionism focuses largely on the rescue of women said to be victims of trafficking, targeting the mobile and migrant women I mentioned earlier, who are now completely disappeared in a narrative of female victimhood. Although much of this goes on under a feminist banner, colonialist maternalism describes it better.

In classic abolitionism, whore stigma is considered a consequence of patriarchy, a system in which men subjugate women and divide them into the good, who are marriageable, and the bad, who are promiscuous or sell sex. If prostitution were abolished, whore stigma would disappear, it is claimed. But contemporary movements against slut-shaming, victim-blaming and rape culture clearly show how whore stigma is applied to women who do not sell sex at all, so the claim is feeble. Instead, abolitionism’s aversion to prostitution probably strengthens the stigma, despite the prostitute’s demotion to the status of victim rather than the transgressor she once was.

Under prohibitionism, those involved in commercial sex are criminalized, which directly reproduces stigma. In this regime, the woman who sells sex is a deliberate outlaw, which oddly at least grants her some agency.

For advocates of the decriminalization of all commercial-sex activities, the disappearance of whore stigma would occur through recognizing and normalizing the selling of sex as labor. We don’t yet know how long it may take for stigma to die out in places where some forms of sex work are decriminalized and regulated: New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Holland. Given the stigma’s potency in all cultures one would expect it to diminish unevenly and slowly but steadily, as happened and continues to happen with the stigma of homosexuality around the world.

Prostitution law and national moralities

I explained my skepticism about prostitution law at length in an academic article, Sex and the Limits of Enlightenment: The Irrationality of Legal Regimes to Control Prostitution. All prostitution laws are conceived as methods to control women who, before ideas of victimhood took hold, were understood to be powerful, dangerous figures associated with rebellion, revolt, carnival, the world upside down, spiritual power and calculated wrongdoing. Conversations about prostitution law, no matter where they take place, argue about how to manage the women: Is it better to permit them to work out of doors or limit them to closed spaces? How many lap-dancing venues should get licenses and where should they be located? In brothels, how often should women be examined for sexually transmitted infections? The rhetoric of helping and saving that surrounds laws accedes with state efforts to control and punish; the first stop for women picked up in raids on brothels or rescues of trafficking victims is a police station. Prostitution law generalizes from worst-case scenarios, which leads directly to police abuse against the majority of cases, which are not so dire.

In theory, under prohibitionism prostitutes are arrested, fined, jailed. Under abolitionism, which permits the selling of sex, a farrago of laws, by-laws and regulations give police a myriad of pretexts for harrying sex workers. Regulationism, which wants to assuage social conflict by legalizing some sex-work forms, constructs non-regulated forms as illegal (and rarely grants labor rights to workers). But eccentricities abound everywhere, making a mockery of these theoretical laws. Even Japan’s wide-open, permissive sex industry prohibits “prostitution” defined as coital sex. And in recent years a hybrid law has arisen that makes paying for sex illegal while selling is permitted. Yes, it’s illogical. But the contradiction is not pointless; it is there because the goal of the law is to make prostitution disappear by debilitating the market through absurd ignorance of how sex businesses work

Discussion of prostitution law occurs in national contexts where rhetoric often harks back to essentialist notions of morality, as though in this highly-travelled, hybrid-culture world it were still possible to talk about authentic national character, or as though “founding father” values must define a country for all time. One intervenor at the recent Canadian Supreme Court hearing on prostitution law argued that decriminalization would defy founding values of “the Canadian community”: “that women required protection from immoral sexual activity generally and prostitution specifically” and “strong moral disapproval of prostitution itself, with a view to promoting gender equality”. The national focus clashes with anti-trafficking campaigns that not only claim to use international law but sponsor imperialist interventions by western NGOs into other countries, notably in Asia, with the United States assuming a familiar meddling role vis-à-vis Rest-of-World.

Gender Equality, State Feminism and intolerance

Gender Equality is now routinely accepted as a worthy principle, but the term is so broad and abstract that a host of varying, contradictory and even authoritarian ideas hide behind it. Gender Equality as a social goal derives from a bourgeois feminist tradition of values about what to strive for and how to behave, particularly regarding sex and family. In this tradition, loving committed couples living with their children in nuclear families are society’s ideal citizens, who should also go into debt to buy houses and get university educations, undertake lifetime “careers” and submit to elected governments. Although many of these values coincide with long-standing governmental measures to control women’s sexuality and reproduction, to question them is viewed with hostility. The assumption is that national governmental status quos would be acceptable if women only had equal power within them.

Gender Equality began to be measured by the UN in 1995 on the basis of indicators in three areas: reproductive health, empowerment and the labor market. Arguments are endless about all the concepts involved, many seeing them as favouring a western concept of “human development” that is tied to income. (How to define equality is also a vexed question.) Until a couple of years ago, the index was based on maternal mortality ratio and adolescent fertility rate (for health), share of parliamentary seats held by sex plus secondary/higher education attainment (for empowerment) and women’s participation in the work force (for labor). On these indicators, which focus on a narrow range of life experiences, northern European countries score highest, which leads the world to look there for progressive ideas about Gender Equality.

These countries manifest some degree of State Feminism: the existence of government posts with a remit to promote Gender Equality. I do not know if it is inevitable, but it is certainly universal that policy promoted from such posts ends up being intolerant of diverse feminisms. State Feminists simplify complex issues through pronouncements represented as the final and correct feminist way to understand whatever matter is at hand. Although those appointed to such posts must demonstrate experience and education, they must also be known to influential social networks. Unsurprisingly, many appointed to such posts come from generations for whom feminism meant the belief that all women everywhere share an essential identity and worldview. Sometimes this manifests as extremist, fundamentalist or authoritarian feminism. Sweden is an example.

Sweden and prostitution

Jämställdhet, Photo Malinka Persson

The population of only nine and a half million is scattered over a large area, and even the biggest city is small. In Sweden’s history, social inequality (class differences) was early targeted for obliteration; nowadays most people look and act middle-class. The mainstream is very wide, while social margins are narrow, most everyone being employed and/or supported by various government programmes. Although the Swedish utopia of Folkhemmet – the People’s Home – was never achieved, it survives as a powerful symbol and dream of consensus and peace. Most people believe the Swedish state is neutral if not actually benevolent, even if they recognize its imperfections.

After the demise of most class distinctions, inequality based on gender was targeted (racial/ethnic differences were a minor issue until recent migration increases). Prostitution became a topic of research and government publications from the 1970s onwards. By the 1990s, eradicating prostitution came to be seen as a necessary condition for the achievement of male-female equality and feasible in a small homogeneous society. The solution envisioned was to prohibit the purchase of sex, conceptualized as a male crime, while allowing the sale of sex (because women, as victims, must not be penalized). The main vehicle was not to consist of arrests and incarcerations but a simple message: In Sweden we don’t want prostitution. If you are involved in buying or selling sex, abandon this harmful behavior and come join us in an equitable society.

Since the idea that prostitution is harmful has infused political life for decades, to refuse to accept such an invitation can appear misguided and perverse. To end prostitution is not seen as a fiat of feminist dictators but, like the goal to end rape, an obvious necessity. To many, prostitution also seems incomprehensibly unnecessary in a state where poverty is so little known.

These are the everyday attitudes that social workers coming into contact with Eva-Maree probably shared. We do not know the details of the custody battle she had been locked in for several years with her ex-partner. We do not know how competent either was as a parent. She recounted that social workers told her she did not understand she was harming herself by selling sex. There are no written guidelines decreeing that prostitutes may not have custody of their children, but all parents undergo evaluations, and the whore stigma could not fail to affect their judgements. For the social workers, Eva-Maree’s identity was spoiled; she was discredited as a mother on psycho-social grounds. She had persisted in trying to gain mother’s rights and made headway with the authorities, but her ex-partner was enraged that an escort could gain any rights at all and did all he could to impede her. The drawn-out custody process broke down on the day she died, since standard procedures do not allow disputing parents to meet during supervised visits with children.

In a 2010 report evaluating the law criminalizing sex-purchase, stigma is mentioned in reference to feedback they received from some sex workers:

The people who are exploited in prostitution report that criminalization has reinforced the stigma of selling sex. They explain that they have chosen to prostitute themselves and feel they are not being involuntarily exposed to anything. Although it is not illegal to sell sex they perceive themselves to be hunted by the police. They perceive themselves to be disempowered in that their actions are tolerated but their will and choice are not respected.

The report concludes that these negative effects “must be viewed as positive from the perspective that the purpose of the law is indeed to combat prostitution”. To those haunted by the death of Eva-Maree, the words sound cruel, but they were written for a document attempting to evaluate the law’s effects. Evaluators had been unable to produce reliable evidence of any kind of effect; an increase in stigma was at least a consequence.

Has this stigma discouraged some women from selling sex who might have wanted to and some men from buying? Maybe, but it is a result no evaluation could demonstrate. The report, in its original Swedish 295 pages, is instead composed of historical background, repetitious descriptions of the project and administrative detail. Claims made later that trafficking has diminished under the law are also impossible to prove, since there are no pre-law baseline statistics to compare to.

The lesson is not that Sweden’s law caused a murder or that any other law would have prevented it. Whore stigma exists everywhere under all prostitution laws. But Sweden’s law can be said to have given whore stigma a new rationality for social workers and judges, the stamp of government approval for age-old prejudice. The ex-partner’s fury at her becoming an escort may derive in part from his Ugandan background, but Sweden did not encourage him to view Eva-Maree more respectfully.

Some say her murder is simply another clear act of male violence and entitlement by a man who wanted her to be disqualified from seeing their children. According to that view, the law is deemed progressive because it combats male hegemony and promotes Gender Equality. This is what most infuriates advocates of sex workers’ rights: that the “Swedish model” is held up as virtuous solution to all of the old problems of prostitution, in the absence of any evidence. But for those who embrace anti-prostitution ideology, the presence or absence of evidence is unimportant.

When media are king

Media handling of these incidents reproduces stigma with variation according to local conditions. The mainstream Swedish press did not mention that Eva-Maree was an escort, because to do so would have seemed to blame her and blacken her name. In the case of a series of murders in Ipswich, England, the media’s relentless talk of prostitutes led the victims’ parents to request they use the term sex workers. A number of dead women on Long Island, NY, were discussed as almost “interchangeable – lost souls who were gone, in a sense, long before they actually disappeared” (Robert Kolker, New York Times, 29 June 2013). A woman murdered recently near Melbourne, Australia, was called “St Kilda prostitute” rather than “sex worker” or even, simply, “woman”, in a place where the concept of sex work is actually on its bumpy way to normalization. I’m talking here about the mainstream, whose online articles are reproduced over and over, hammering in the clichés.

Editors who append photos to articles on the sex industry use archetypes: women leaning into car windows, sitting on bar stools, standing amidst traffic – legs, stockings and high heels highlighted. Editors do this not because they are too lazy to find other pictures but to show, before you read a word, what the articles are really about: women whose uniform is the outward sign of an inner stain. Similarly, when writers and editors use the clichéd language of a “secret world”, “dark underbelly”, “stolen childhoods”, “seedy streets” and “forbidden fruit”, they are not simply being sensationalist but pointing to the stigma: Here’s what this news is really about – the disgusting and dangerous but also eternal and thrilling world of whores.

Cutting the Gordian Knot

Not long ago I was invited to speak at the Dublin Anarchist Bookfair on the topic of sex work as work. The announcement on Facebook provoked violent ranting: to have me was anti-feminist, against socialism and a betrayal of anarchism. I wrote Talking about sex work without isms to explain why I would not discuss feminist arguments in the short Dublin talk. I’m not personally interested in utopias and after 20 years in the field really only want to discuss how to improve things practically in the here and now. No prostitution law can comprehend the proliferation of businesses in today’s sex industry or account for the many degrees of volition and satisfaction among workers. Sexual relations cannot be “fixed” through Gender-Equality policy. If I were Alexander standing over the knot I would slice it thus: All conversations from this moment will begin from the premise that we will not all agree. We will look for a variety of solutions to suit the variety of beliefs, and we will not compete over which ideological position is best. Most important, we will assume that what all women say is what they mean.

LAURA AGUSTÍN is author of Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry (Zed Books). A researcher and analyst of human trafficking, undocumented migration and sex-industry research for the past 20 years, she blogs as The Naked Anthropologist.


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Who cares about the law against buying sex? City, a free newspaper like Metro, ran a page recently on sex laws in Sweden.

17 steps to a softer vision of sex
A lot has happened on the sex front in the past 100 years.
Follow City’s timeline to see how the vision of sex has changed.

The choice of landmarks to put on this timeline is interesting; obviously not all legal events concerning sex in Sweden in the past 100 years were included. Those chosen reflect familiar forms of liberalisation most people are now comfortable with: contraception, abortion, homosexuality, discrimination, partnerships.

The law criminalising the purchase of sex, sexköpslagen, is absent, as are other laws that contradict the headline that says everything’s become ‘softer’ (more permissive/less strict; soft and softer aren’t Swedish words). One friend said editors would omit the sex-buying law as insignificant to 90% of the readers – just one of those odd laws ordinary people don’t understand and have no opinion about. City is an unpretentious, popular paper commuters pick up outside train stations.

If you only look at news sources that consider themselves to be Important, keeping the record of what national government figures say and do, you get a different impression – that laws like sexköpslagen are symbols of Swedish policy on equality. Some people think this hegemonic news is more important. Some think it’s significant that only one MP actively opposes the law, but my guess is the others just want to avoid trouble from aggressive state feminists. Then there’s the fact that most people just don’t know there are normal sex workers in their lives, because everyone keeps quiet about it. That’s what stigma accomplishes, and it’s the opposite of normalisation.

Anti-prostitutionists exaggerate effects of the law constantly, and claim that a single survey on ‘attitudes’ about it proves its popularity amongst Swedes (Kuosmanen 2010). But the author himself cautioned against believing his results, given that ‘of the 2500 questionnaires that were distributed, 1134 were returned, providing a response rate of 45.4% and a missing rate of 54.6% from the entire sample.’ It turns out a large proportion of males receiving the survey failed to respond, meaning, Kuosmanen warned, ‘the results should be interpreted with a degree of caution, particularly as regards questions that concern experiences of the purchase and sale of sex, where there is, in addition, a degree of internally missing data.’

I doubt most people who received the survey knew much or had ever thought about the law. What does it matter, then, how they answered the questions? I don’t understand the significance of an attitude survey, as though the population were a marketing focus group asked to indicate whether a new flavour of yogurt has a future amongst consumers.

It would be interesting to see a parallel timeline of ‘harder’ or less permissive visions of sex during the same period: laws widening the definition of rape and women’s sexual vulnerability (which sexköpslagen is grounded in). The presence of both tendencies at the same time shows how society tries to ‘progress’ vis-a-vis sex, deciding which forms of sexual liberation and control to promote, which kinds of sex are good and bad. Politicians make hay of this stuff, while everyone else gets on with doing what they want, mostly – as discussed the other day under the rubric Prohibition.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Rose Alliance in Stockholm Pride Parade

A few weeks ago a flurry of Swedish media articles purported to ‘reveal’ that the national development agency, Sida, gives money (3,611,092 euros) to Mama Cash, a Dutch foundation that, among many women’s causes, supports sex workers’ rights and has funded Rose Alliance, a sex-worker group in Sweden. This wasn’t even new news, but some anti-prostitution folks tried to whip up indignation and manufacture a scandal.

The first story appeared on a news site hosted by Sida itself on 4 December. The same day, another article repeated the news, with a headline saying the money goes to lobbyists for commercial sex. Still on the same day one of Sweden’s delegates to the European Parliament, and a member of the abolitionist European Women’s Lobbydemanded excitedly that Sida stop giving the money (she’s holding up the Say No to Prostitution sign in her photo). The next day saw replies from RFSU (Sweden’s big sex-education organisation) and Louise Persson, defending the financing of groups supporting vulnerable women/prostitutes/sex workers. Then there was another piece from the parliamentarian, followed by another on the Sida site. Neither Mama Cash nor Sida made any reply.

At Rose Alliance we decided to write a short statement acknowledging the flurry and, instead of defending or counter-attacking, presenting the basic facts about the organisation on a news site called Newsmill. It got delayed in the pre-Christmas rush and was published 23 December as Vi sexarbetare kan föra vår egen talan. Here is the English version, just as dry and unexcited as the original Swedish.

Sex Workers Can Speak for Ourselves

Annelie Eriksson, Pye Jakobsson and Laura Agustín

Rose Alliance was recently in the news when it was reported at OmVärlden that Sida gives money to a foundation that has given us two grants. Rose Alliance (Riksorganisationen för sex- och erotikarbetare i Sverige) is an organisation for current and former sex workers in Sweden. We began in 2001 but started expanding about three years ago.

The most important things to know about Rose Alliance are:

We promote economic, labour and individual rights for people of any gender identity who sell sex.

  • We recognise that sex workers have a wide variety of experiences and value all of them.
  • We believe in the theory and practice of harm reduction.
  • We assist and advise each other on legal and self-employment issues and dealing with social and police authorities, on a voluntary basis.

Rose Alliance works on health-promotion projects with HIV-Sweden financed by Smittskyddsinstitutet, and participated in a project funded by the European Commission’s Leonardo da Vinci programme. We are members of the European Harm Reduction Network, an RFSL-coordinated network on male and trans sex work and the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (these do not involve receiving money). Last week we took part in the World Conference of ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) in Stockholm, and we have had our own float in Stockholm Pride for the past two years (video clips here).

We received our first core funding in 2011, from Mama Cash, to strengthen our internal organisation. We now have funding for two more years, which we will use to

Some Rose Alliance members blog and publish articles as individuals: Greta Svammel, Petite Jasmine, the Naked Anthropologist are examples. Some members receive invitations to visit, speak and consult both inside and outside Sweden. Host organisations reimburse the usual expenses for this travel.

Political lobbying is not our main focus. But for the record, we advocate self-determination and rights for sex workers – the right to sell sex as well as the right to stop selling sex. The law criminalising the purchase of sex aims to deprive sex workers of the right to run their own lives, so we oppose it.

Here’s the original Swedish

Vi sexarbetare kan föra vår egen talan

Annelie Eriksson, Pye Jakobsson och Laura Agustín för Rose Alliance

23 Dec 2012, Newsmill

Rose Alliance var nyligen uppmärksammade i media när det rapporterades på OmVärlden att Sida ger pengar till en stiftelse som har gett oss två verksamhetsbidrag. Riksorganisationen för sex- och erotikarbetare i Sverige (Rose Alliance) är en intresseorganisation för nuvarande och före detta sexarbetare i Sverige. Vi startade 2001 men började växa som organisation för ungefär tre år sedan.

De viktigaste att veta om Rose Alliance är:

  • Vi arbetar för att främja ekonomiska, arbetsrättsliga och individuella rättigheter för alla sexarbetare, oavsett könsidentitet.
  • Vi inser att sexarbetare har en stor variation av erfarenheter och värderar alla lika mycket.
  • Vi tror på skadereduktion, både i teori och praktik.
  • Vi stödjer och rådgör med varandra i juridiska frågor, frågor kring egenföretagande och hur man hanterar kontakt med sociala- och polisiära myndigheter. Allt på en volontär basis.

Rose Alliance arbetar med ett projekt om sexuell hälsa i samarbete med HIV-Sverige finansierat av Smittskyddsinstitutet, och deltar i ett projekt finansierat av Europeiska Kommissionens  Leonardo da Vinci programme. Vi är medlemmar i European Harm Reduction Network, i ett RFSL Stockholm koordinerat nätverk om manlig och transsexarbete och i Global Network of Sex Work Projects (dessa projekt ger inte organisationen något ekonomiskt bidrag utöver ersättning för eventuella kostnader).

Förra veckan deltog vi i World Conference of ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) i Stockholm, och vi har haft en egen lastbil i Stockholms prideparad under de senaste två åren.

Vi fick vårt första verksamhetsbidrag 2011, från Mama Cash, för att stärka vår interna organisation. Vi har sedan juli 2012 verksamhetsbidrag för ytterligare två år, som kommer att användas till att:

Vissa Rose Alliance medlemmar bloggar och publicerar artiklar som individer:Greta SvammelPetite Jasmine, the Naked Anthropologist är några exempel. Vissa medlemmar blir inbjudna att besöka, föreläsa och konsultera såväl inom som utanför Sverige. Värdorganisationerna ersätter då kostnader i samband med dessa resor.

Politisk lobbyverksamhet är inte vårt främsta fokus. Men för tydlighetens skull: vi förespråkar självbestämmande och rättigheter för sexarbetare – rätten att sälja sex såväl som rätten att sluta sälja sex. Sexköpslagen bidrar till beröva sexarbetare rätten att styra över sina egna liv, därför är vi emot den.

Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Toulouse-Lautrec, AloneNordic model is a new tag on this website, and it doesn’t refer to leggy blondes. People contact me ever oftener asking for what I’ve written on prostitution laws in the Nordic countries, so I have now tagged everything I could find. This is a sub-set of the Sweden tag, which includes other sorts of issues related to gender equality. Norway’s law is even more stringent than Sweden’s. Iceland is the third country that has passed the law, but many others are considering it.

What you will not find are quantitative, definitive, bottom-line debunkings of abolitionist and anti-prostitutionist claims. Those don’t exist, they cannot exist, and anyone who says they can is spinning a line. There’s widespread disagreement about how to define trafficking and who is a victim of it, so when you see numbers you should immediately be skeptical. Sometimes ideology is at the bottom of large figures for victims. Other times the issue is that different countries and organisations use non-comparable categories for counting people. Where sex businesses operate in the informal sector there are no formal lists of employees. Where sex workers are supposed to register with the state (as prostitutes) many do not. Undocumented migrants are not eligible to register anywhere as workers and are not counted at the border. Everyone estimates all these numbers; the words research and evidence are tossed about wantonly. The most egregious example I know of ideologically based, subjective, sloppy counting is Siddharth Kara’s. There are other grotesque examples I describe as Garbage In, Garbage Out.

When someone asks for ‘the most reliable statistics on the effect of the Swedish Model of prostitution criminalisation’, they are assuming those exist somewhere. To understand why they do not exist, look at critiques of the government evaluation of its law. They were unable to evaluate it, they didn’t know how, I wouldn’t know how either, so no conclusions can be drawn from the evaluation. There are only claims. Go to the nordic-model tag and find things like

Moral entrepreneurs go on pretending large numbers prove their points. People say the Nordic model – laws that prohibit the purchase of sex and punish purchasers – is effective in reducing prostitution and trafficking. As for reducing prostitution, the only thing that possibly has been reduced is the number of people selling in the street, but those were tiny numbers to begin with and already shrinking. The Swedish evaluators anyway used famously wrong Danish numbers for street prostitution to make their claim and never issued a correction after being informed of their error. On any other kind of commercial sex, they had no numbers at all because they did not know how to do that research (and they admitted it).

As for claims about trafficking, you cannot know you have ‘reduced’ something for which you had no baseline numbers in the first place. All you have are police officials’ impressions and claims. The ‘effect’ of the law is unmeasurable.

I’ve begun tweeting, by the way, and realise I am starting to reach people who don’t know why anti-trafficking campaigns are so conflicted and unsuccessful. Do come join me (@LauraAgustin) in the challenge to make incredibly complex subjects lucid in under 140 characters.

Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Note: This post was first published in May 2011.

Feminist Satanism. No, that’s not right. Satanic Feminists. To be fair, no, it should be Feminists Who Believe Men are Pedophilic Satanists (or Satanist Pedophiles). No matter how you look at it, these words don’t immediately make sense together. This is the Rescue Industry with a vengeance – and Extremist Feminism indeed.*

Gunilla Ekberg has not appeared in public in Sweden in quite a while, I believe, but she has been giving anti-prostitution talks in Canada in support of a campaign to defeat Judge Himel’s decision to decriminalise many aspects of sex work in Ontario (Ekberg is apparently a citizen of Canada now). Admirers in Canada are billing her as a famous international lawyer, but she was publicly criticised in Sweden for calling herself a lawyer – does anyone know about Canada?  Her notoriety derives from her unyielding attitude as a campaigner, so authoritarian even some Swedes with similar ideas stopped wanting to be associated with her.

In 2005 she worked for Sweden’s Ministry of Industry as an expert on prostitution and was closely allied with ROKS, an organisation that runs shelters for women in trouble. At the time, ROKS’s management claimed Swedish patriarchy could usefully be compared to Afghanistan’s and advocated separatism: women living apart from men. As if this were not enough, ROKS management came to believe that pedophilic satanism was a real threat to girls and women in Sweden. Phew.

Other European countries have suffered mad bouts of belief in satanic cults in history, and the US is famous for its Satanic Panic all through the 1980s, but the oddity with Sweden is how such extremism can dwell so very close to mainstream government: get funding, have prestige, function as if ordinary and unremarkable.

The story of Ekberg’s embarrassing moment and public disgrace occurred in 2005, when journalist Evin Rubar (a woman) was making a programme about ROKS for Swedish Television, Könskriget (Sex War – link to first part),  in which the story of the satanic pedophiles is told, including the testimony of a young woman supposedly saved by ROKS who complains about her treatment by the rescuers. You will see in the clip below that Rubar, assuming Ekberg to have been closely involved, asks questions Ekberg refuses to answer. Leaving the room, Ekberg, assuming the microphone is off, threatens Rubar: Don’t count on any help from the shelters. The whole Sex War programme is two hours long; this is the clip in which Ekberg threatens Rubar:

Ekberg did not lose her job over this, but she did eventually leave it. The affair generated much criticism of her behaviour and that of the ROKS people, who come across as maniacs (at least one writer calling their thought patterns feminist fundamentalism, with which I concur, here on the blog and in Sex at the Margins). Numerous Swedish bloggers followed the disgraceful affair, reported here in the newspaper Aftonbladet. The ROKS manager was replaced.

Here is Part One of Sex War in Swedish, and here is a website that does a summary in English. After which, you will need a laugh.

Today, 25 June 2012, numerous people wrote to me to say, about another blogger’s post: Didn’t you write about this already? The answer is yes, in May 2011. Oh blogs, so easy to ‘absorb’. Sometimes the absorber says ‘but I only used the links you gave!’ Not good enough, say I, as defence against parasitism.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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I will be giving an hour-long lecture in Stockholm on 26 January 2012, covering general ideas about migration and who ‘migrants’ are thought to be, both documented and undocumented, as well as ideas about health and prevention, including for migrant sex workers. The sponsors are Smittskyddsinstitutet (Swedish Institute for Communicable Disease Control), a government agency to monitor the epidemiological situation for communicable diseases in humans and promote protection against them.

It is interesting and progressive that this agency should have me speak at their event: Nuancing of the notion of migrants is taking place. Note that State Feminism is not in charge here.

I have only just heard that pre-registration for this event closes tomorrow, so I supply details quickly now. I would love for some supporters to come to this Stockholm event, and, if you do, please come and introduce yourselves.

Konferens: Migration och prevention

Smittskyddsinstitutet (SMI) och Europeiska flyktingfonden (ERF) i samverkan välkomnar dig som arbetar med frågor inom området hälsa, prevention och migration till en heldagskonferens om migration och prevention. Konferensen vill utifrån ett hälsoperspektiv belysa hälsa och prevention i samband med migrationsprocessen och mottagandet av asylsökande och andra som av skilda skäl söker sig till Sverige.

Forskare från Malmö högskola redovisar nya kunskapssammanställningar på området migration, sexuell hälsa och prevention. Dessutom presenterar SMI med samarbetspartner ett nytt projekt som syftar till förbättrad struktur och samordning kring hälsoundersökningar av asylsökande.

26 januari 2012

Norra Latin, Stockholm
kl. 09.00 – 16.30 (registrering och kaffe från kl. 08.30)

Moderator: Willy Silberstein

Konferensen vänder sig till hälso- och sjukvårdspersonal, tjänstemän, politiker, forskare och ideella organisationer inom området hälsa, prevention och migration.

Konferensen är gratis. SMI bjuder på lunch och kaffe. Antalet platser är begränsat till 200.

OBS! Förlängds anmälningstid: Sista anmälningsdag 10 januari 2012.

Program
09.00 – 09.15 Robert Jonzon, Smi, hälsar välkommen Moderator Willy Silberstein presenterar konferensprogram.
09.15 – 09.45 Inledning av GD J. Carlson, Smi, och tf GD C. Werner, Migrationsverket.
09.45 – 10.15 Migration och sexuell hälsa – Presentation av en kunskapsöversikt från Malmö högskola, Monica Ideström, enhetschef vid Smi.
10.15 – 10.30 Bensträckare.
10.30 – 11.00 Migration och prevention – Presentation av en kunskapsöversikt, Fil.mag. Christina Halling, Malmö högskola.
11.00 – 11.45 Frågor och diskussion under moderators ledning.
11.45 – 13.00 Lunch.
13.00 – 14.00 Migration – Sex at the Margins (föredrag på engelska) – The Naked Anthropologist, Dr Laura Agustín.
14.00 – 14.30 Förbättrad struktur och samordning kring hälsoundersökningar av asylsökande – Presentation av EU-projekt, projektledare Robert Jonzon, Smi.
14.30 – 15.00 Kaffe.
15.00 – 15.20 Förutsättningarna att ge andra än asylsökande m.fl. erbjudande om hälsoundersökning – Presentation av Socialdepartementets utredning, utredningssekreterare Anna Billing.
15.20 – 15.50 Presentation av EU-projektets partners och medarbetare, Robert Jonzon m.fl. Utöver Smittskyddsinstitutet deltar följande partners i projektet: Migrationsverket, Socialstyrelsen, Sveriges Kommuner och Landsting, Stockholm läns landsting, Norrbottens läns landsting, Landstinget i Östergötland och Region Skåne samt Uppsala och Umeå universitet.
15.50 – 16.30 Avslutande diskussion under ledning av moderator

Here is the Migration & Prevention programme as a pdf.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Livesändningar från NMT Sverige

Här livesänds den nationella konferensen om prostitution och människohandel för sexuella ändamål, som pågått på Citykonferensen i Stockholm, den 14 december 2011, 15.15 – 16.30.

Frivilligt ell er ej? Paneldebatt

  • Jenny Westerstrand, forskare vid Juridiska institutionen, Uppsala universitet
  • Claes Borgström, advokat och f.d. Jämo
  • Lisen Lindström, samtalsbehandlare vid Prostitutionsenheten i Stockholm
  • Lise Tamm, Vice chefsåklagare, Internationella åklagarkammaren Stockholm
  • Hanna Wagenius, förbundsordförande Centerpartiets ungdomsförbund
  • Jonas Jonsson, handläggare hiv och hälsa samt utbildare, RFSL
  • Petra Östergren, forskare och författare
  • OCH en Rose Alliance medlem pratate två gånger från publiken.

    Det behövs lite talamod i början men då blir debatten ganska intressant.

    –Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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    Note to visitors to Sweden who want to see, examine, document, research or otherwise report on the effects of the law to criminalise buying sex: Cancel your trips, there is nothing to see.

    How can you see ‘less’ sex trafficking’, ‘less’ sex work? How does one interpret emptiness? What does the absence of people on this bus mean? Does no one ride buses anymore? Is this one out of service? Is it on display in a museum? Has the route been cancelled? Who knows the answer?

    I receive messages continually from people planning trips to Sweden: journalists, filmmakers, researchers, students, fellowship-applicants. They have all had the same idea to visit a country where a law prohibiting the purchase of sex is claimed to have reduced its sale and reduced sex trafficking. If these visitors write to me, I suppose they have read what I (and others) have written on the failure of the government evaluation to prove anything about the law and the difficulty that any such evaluation faces. Yet people assume they will somehow be able to observe the effects of the law. The whole idea of effects is questionable, but in the case of prohibitionist laws even more so. The most obvious first effect of prohibition is to discourage people from being seen doing whatever has been prohibited. Some people might really stop (or might never start) doing whatever has been made illegal, and some people might find different ways to do it that will be harder to discover. A typical visit is proposed like this Irish one:

    Mr Shatter said representatives from the Department of Justice and the Garda travelled to the Swedish capital, Stockholm, recently to observe the impact of legislation introduced there in 1999 to criminalise the purchase of sexual services.

    And reported like this:

    Presentations in Sweden included discussions with the Swedish Department of Justice and evaluators of the Swedish legislation (Supreme Court Judge Anna Skarhed, Mrs Gunilla Berglund from the Ministry of Justice, the National Rapporteur on Trafficking Ms Kasja Wahlberg, and the Co-ordinator of Stockholm Prostitution Unit Mr Patrick Cederlof). There were also presentations from ROKS (a Swedish NGO which provides refuge for battered women), Jenny Westerstrand (Researcher on Prostitution regimes) and Ulrika Rosvall Levin, (The Swedish Institute). [some typos corrected by me]

    I don’t understand myself why they spend money and time interviewing government spokespeople, politicians, the heads of government-funded projects and moral entrepreneurs all of whom only re-state what they have said before but not proven: that the law has reduced prostitution and sex trafficking. Those statements are widely available on the Internet, including in television clips and videos. All of the above interviewees receive government money to do their jobs and all are known to fiercely favour the criminalisation of buying sex and wish for the disappearance of all forms of selling it. They give meaning to the term stakeholder.

    Many visitors also interview police officials, who are only permitted to confirm government policy and mostly just point to a drop in the number of sex workers in the street (since they have no idea how to measure all other forms of commercial sex). The police also engage in speculation that shows they are doing their jobs well, since there is so little sex trafficking to see. This absence is also tricky to interpret, since there was never any baseline evidence on trafficking before the law so they have nothing to compare to now when they do (or do not) find any.

    But, you say, some of the visitors want to talk to you or ask you to introduce them to real live sex workers who could balance what they hear from the government. About talking to me, ok I will sound different, but I can’t demonstrate that government claims are wrong – the same problem of researching an absence holds. (Another snag is that visitors begin by assuming that anyone they want to talk to lives in the capital, when Sweden’s a big country [for Europe] and all relevant and interesting folks do not live in Stockholm.) About my introducing visitors to sex workers: I consider it unethical. If I did introduce anyone, though, what would the personal testimony of one or two individuals mean? Little.

    Nonetheless, I don’t believe I have deterred anyone determined to come see what the prohibition looks like. All I can do is ask folks to consider what they think they will be able to see. Take this view of a single person sitting in a bar – how many reasons can you think of to explain why he is alone?

    –Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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    Migranten som resenär
    Laura Maria Agustín

    Arena #2 april 2011 – Den nya underklassen Invandraren är tillbaka. Vilka är vi och dom?


    På lyxiga semesterorter i Dominikanska republiken solar turister nära stränder där småbåtar frekvent ger sig ut mot Puerto Rico. Mona-kanalens förrädiska strömmar vimlar av hajar och många av båtarna kapsejsar. Men nästan alla dominikaner känner ändå någon som har lyckats klara resan. De som har tagit sig över gränsen måste sedan passera genom Puerto Ricos västra träskmarker, där den amerikanska gränspolisen väntar. De som tar sig förbi dem kan stanna på ön eller fortsätta till Miami, New York eller Europa. Presumtiva migranter försöker hitta erfaret sjöfolk med båtar starka nog att klara stormar och som inte överlastar båtarna med alltför många passagerare.

    I boken The Suffering of the Immigrant beskriver sociologen Abdelmalek Sayad hur länder som tar emot migranter uppfattar migration som ett irriterande socialt problem som måste ”hanteras”. Sayad ser de överväldigande hinder som nordafrikaner möter i Frankrike som en tydlig strukturell konsekvens av kolonisering, utan att för den skull offerförklara migranterna. I stället argumenterar han kraftfullt för att erkänna dem som handlande subjekt. Förmågan att se och erkänna den sortens agentskap – att även missgynnade migranter är huvudpersoner i sina egna liv – har sin grund i en förståelse för hur migrationer börjar.

    När jag bodde i Dominikanska republiken, var ett av mina uppdrag att besöka samhällen där utflyttning var väletablerat. Jag mötte kvinnor som ville resa till Europa, där de två valmöjligheter som fanns att tillgå var att arbeta som inneboende hembiträde eller att sälja sex. De vägde riskerna och fördelarna mot varandra och diskuterade huruvida de skulle klara anpassningen. De flesta av dem hade inte någon längre formell utbildning, men de var varken naiva eller ointelligenta.  Om de stannade hemma var deras bästa alternativ fortfarande hemhjälp eller att sälja sex, men till långt lägre löner och utan de nya horisonter en resa kan erbjuda.

    Potentiella migranter drömmer också om att få se kända platser, träffa nya människor, bli självständiga, lära sig ett nytt yrke, få nya idéer – precis som människor i rika länder gör. Att resa är utvecklande för alla resenärer – inte bara för rika turister, och för många människor är dessa resor deras största chans att ta reda på mer om världen.

    När jag reste runt på ön och in i Haiti, hörde jag dussintals människor prata om hur de skulle komma i väg. Européer tar för givet att deras resevisum beviljas av vilket land de än vill besöka. Medborgare i länder som Dominikanska republiken vet att deras ansökningar om turistvisa aldrig kommer att beviljas. Liksom när det gäller att få ett arbete och arbetstillstånd utomlands, utgör de statliga riktlinjerna en begränsning – arbetstillstånden omfattar bara ”kvalificerade” jobb, vilket gör att många migranter väljer att resa utanför det formella regelverket och tar ”okvalificerade” jobb i den svarta ekonomin.

    För att få tillgång till de här arbetena kan resenärerna behöva nytt namn och pass, en falsk vigselring, flygbiljetter, pengar att visa upp för gränspoliser och råd om vad man ska säga till dem, någon som möter upp vid flygplatsen och någonstans att bo när de kommer fram. Jag träffade många människor som erbjuder de här tjänsterna till potentiella migranter, inklusive deras egna familjemedlemmar, gamla vänner, bekantskaper bland turister och frilansande entreprenörer. Eftersom den här resemarknaden inte är reglerad, finns det inget bra sätt att veta vem som gör ett bra jobb och vem som behandlar migranterna korrekt, förutom via ryktesvägen: berättelser från kunder som smugglats ut säkert.

    Jag pratade med Lucía, en strippdansös som hade väntat på det rätta tillfället att ge sig av i flera månader. Hon ville åka till Paris, men hade inte hittat rätt erbjudande ännu. Miriam, med två års universitetsstudier och erfarenheter av arbete som tandläkarassistent, funderade på ifall statussänkningen att bli hembiträde skulle vägas upp av de pengar hon kunde tjäna i Italien, där hennes syster bodde. Båda kvinnorna visste vilka priser och villkor de önskade och besökte platser där smugglare samlas regelbundet för att höra vad som erbjöds.

    En del såg mig som en möjlighet. En kypare började prata med mig efter att ha serverat kaffe, Read the rest of this entry »

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