Since I first began thinking about people selling sex as part of their travels or migration projects, I’ve seen numerous strategies for warning them of the dangers. Governmental and charity projects alike have produced television commercials, posters, stickers, postcards. The latest tactic comes from the Ukraine, where almost perfect copies of euro-banknotes have appeared with images of prostitutes leaning on Europe’s monumental architecture.
Warning messages are printed at the top. The idea sounds clever, but is there any reason to think potential migrants will be influenced this way? I think the imagery actually glamourises prostitution, as the slender, feminine figures are positioned alluringly against the very emblems of European culture that attract them in the first place! It’s true the women look small next to the grand arches, but the effect is theatrical and the women become beautiful lone heroines on a classic stage.
Why banknotes? Is the idea that potential travellers will be more likely to pay attention to this warning message because they will be attracted to fake money? Perhaps. But this only confirms that campaigners and migrants alike agree that money is essential, desirable and powerful.
And what of those who facilitate the unregulated travels, or migrations, of such migrants, will they be influenced by the banknote campaign? Whether you call them travel agents, pimps or traffickers, they also may feel almost flattered by the dramatic images.
This is all guesswork, however. Perhaps anti-trafficking activists ought to employ marketing experts to study which messages might get through to candidates for migration – or women who get into selling sex. Maybe there is some strategy that could overcome people’s disposition to take risks in order to get ahead, make more money faster than they could any other way and see some of the world outside their homes. But I doubt it.
—Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist