Migrants in the Mistress’s House: Other Voices in the Trafficking Debate

Here is another article that required persistence and patience to get through the academic journal review process and into publication. Migrants in the Mistress’s House: Other Voices in the ‘Trafficking’ Debate, published in 2005, used testimonies of women selling sex who do not consider themselves coerced, forced, trafficked or enslaved or who, even if they were coerced by economic circumstance, are not searching for Rescue. Click on the title for the pdf.

Migrants in the Mistress’s House: Other Voices in the ‘Trafficking’ Debate, by Laura Agustín, Social Politics, Volume 12, Number 1, 96-117 (2005).

I contrasted feminist interpretations like this:

Whatever levels of knowledge and ‘consent’ are involved, however, women are never made aware of the extent to which they will be indebted, intimidated, exploited and controlled. They believe . . . that they can travel to a richer country and earn large amounts of money in a short space of time, which they can then use to move themselves and their families out of poverty and despair. In reality, they are told they owe a huge debt which must be repaid through providing sexual services, and they are able to exercise virtually no control at all over their hours of work, the number of customers they serve, and the kinds of sex they have to provide. (Kelly and Regan 2000, 5)

with migrant testimonies like this:

I arrived in Almería through a friend’s mediation. I began to work as a domestic, I was badly paid and mistreated. Sundays I came to the edge of the sea and cried. One Sunday a Moroccan man saw me crying, I explained my situation to him, he took me to his house. I was a virgin, he promised he was going to marry me . . . he got me a residence card. . . . He found me work in a restaurant and let me stay in his studio, he told me I had to pay rent. I began to sleep with some clients from the restaurant. . . . Now, I would like to go to France, I want to get married. . . . My sister who lives in Bézier says she’s going to find me a Frenchman, to get a residence card. (Moroccan woman; Lahbabi and Rodríguez 2000, 18)

or this:

Once I was talking with a friend and she asked if I wanted to go to Spain. I knew why, so I said: ‘Ah, do you want to?’ . . . and I don’t know where she met this guy, he got the papers for us . . . the money and we left. . . . This guy went to look for work, where are the best places to work, where there are men. . . . Because one place has a lot of men, another doesn’t. . . . I worked in Logroño a month or so . . . then back to Málaga . . . a month or two, then I came here. . . . He talked first with the boss of this place . . . said he was looking for work for us. (Ukrainian woman in Spain; Agustín 2001)

The men in both stories would be called pimps and traffickers by the cited feminists.

In 2005 this was still mainly a feminist quarrel, so those are the arguments I attempted to answer. I called it Migrants in the mistress’s house in reference to working-class servants in rich people’s homes, where they may become subversive members of the family, and, in the female case, have sexual relationships with some of them that may be coerced but may also be manipulative and self-serving. Full references in the paper itself.

The Disappearing of a Migration Category: Migrants Who Sell Sex was rather directed at migration scholars, to highlight how they were leaving these migrants aside, as a ‘feminist’ issue.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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