This statement comes from the founder of Empower on the occasion of their report Hit and Run: The impact of anti-trafficking policy and practice on Sex Workers’ Human Rights in Thailand. This assessment, carried out by more than 200 sex workers over the course of 12 months in bars, restaurants and brothels across the country and in Burma and Laos, begins:
We travel for days up the mountains, across rivers, through dense forest. We follow the paths that others have taken. Small winding paths of dust or mud depending on the season. I carry my bag of clothes and all the hopes of my family on my back. I carry this with pride; it’s a precious bundle not a burden. As for the border, for the most part, it does not exist. There is no line drawn on the forest floor. There is no line in the swirling river. I simply put my foot where thousands of other women have stepped before me. My step is excited, weary, hopeful, fearful and defiant. Behind me lies the world I know. It’s the world of my grandmothers and their grandmothers. Ahead is the world of my sisters who have gone before me, to build the dreams that keep our families alive. This step is Burma. This step is Thailand. That is the border.
If this was a story of man setting out on an adventure to find a treasure and slay a dragon to make his family rich and safe, he would be the hero. But I am not a man. I am a woman and so the story changes. I cannot be the family provider. I cannot be setting out on an adventure. I am not brave and daring. I am not resourceful and strong. Instead I am called illegal, disease spreader, prostitute, criminal or trafficking victim.
Why is the world so afraid to have young, working class, non-English speaking, and predominantly non-white women moving around? It’s not us that are frequently found to be pedophiles, serial killers or rapists. We have never started a war, directed crimes against humanity or planned and carried out genocide. It’s not us that fill the violent offender’s cells of prisons around the world. Exactly what risk does our freedom of movement pose? Why is keeping us in certain geographical areas so important that governments are willing to spend so much money and political energy? Why do we feel like sheep or cattle, only allowed by the farmer to graze where and when he chooses? Why do other women who have already crossed over into so many other worlds, fight to keep us from following them? Nothing in our experiences provides us with an answer to these questions.
A hundred-page report follows. Excerpts from Sex ‘trade’, not ‘traffic’, a news story on the report include:
The survey determined that more than 50,000 sex workers have been involved with Empower since it started [in 1985] including migrants mainly from Laos, Burma, China and Cambodia…
Migration, it was noted, is part of the “culture” of sex work, and the brokers involved in transporting people are generally seen as helpful. Most don’t charge exorbitant rates for their service…
“We came to build new lives for our families, not to be sent home empty-handed and ashamed,” explained Dang Moo, another Burmese sex worker in Mae Sot…
“Before I was arrested I was working happily, had no debt, and was free to move around the city,” said Nok, a Burmese. “Now I’m in debt, I’m scared most of the time, and it’s not safe to move around. How can they call this ‘help’?”…
For those dropping into this website for the first time and not familiar with the issues except for what you’ve seen on television or in the newspapers, I have put together a list of links to stories about ‘rescues’ not appreciated by those defined as victims. This does not mean the migrants or sex workers or prostitutes were all perfectly happy with everything about their lives; it means they did not want whatever attempt to help was forced on them as part of anti-sex trafficking operations, and in many cases felt their lives had been ruined by Rescue. The Rescue Industry tag on this website includes many more posts with more resources, but here is an array of striking commentaries on what so few people question: the efficacy of Rescue operations.
- Women resist rescue by anti-trafficking police, who admit it, July 2011
- Saved at last? or Sex Workers Don’t Want Rescue? Stories from India, October 2010
- Chinese trafficked sex workers refuse rescue from Congo, January 2011
- Even sex-trafficked brothel workers reject raids and rescues, August 2011
- Saving prostitutes or chasing out sex workers: Don Benzi, Abruzzo and deforestation, October 2010
- Teen prostitutes don’t want to be saved so they must be brainwashed, right?, October 2011
- Bangalore sex workers reject rescue by Supreme Court judge, March 2011
- Cambodia Ladyboy Rescue Goes Wrong, November 2008
- Sex Workers on Sunday: what people say themselves about exchanging money for sex, April 2011
And just to make it clear this problem of imposing victimisation and Rescue on women who sell sex is quite old, consider
–Laura Agustín, The Naked Anthropologist