Tag Archives: dance

Sexwork and migration fiction (4): To go with sex tourists or smugglers?

urlOf all the characters destined to work selling sex in The Three-Headed Dog, Marina has the most experience. Now in Spain for the second time, Marina comes from a backwater of la República Dominicana. Sharing the island of La Española (Hispaniola) with Haití, Dominicana is a poor, weakly governed nation popular with tourists on tight budgets. Many of these are called sex tourists by critics, meaning a central purpose for their visit is to buy sex and romance with natives, in a typically tropical setting. Marina reflects on how she got started in her present career.

d5d43c2ca5485db793354630fd176c90… if nice trees and flowers were enough to live on she would never have left home. She would have made do with slaving away as shop assistant in her aunt’s colmado or as a maid to some pretentious lady in the city, either way for pennies. Instead she took a job as hostess in a beer-hall, and her mother sobbed like it was the end of the world. It was okay for a while, but Marina was always looking to better herself.



She got taken on at an open-air nightclub in a larger town. It had twenty rickety tables, strings of coloured lights and loud music equipment. There was a platform made of two-by-fours where a single spot was turned on women dancing naked. It was close enough to beaches that tourists rode up on flimsy motoconchos, guys of all different nationalities, some who could barely stay on the bike. Motos with five Dominican kids would pass them roaring with laughter. Marina learned which men danced the best, which were most polite, and which gave the biggest tips.

scene_typique_ambatalok_nosy_tnThe craziest thing was the lines they spun! Come with me to Berlin, you’ll be a queen. There’s no one like you in my hometown. You’re a real woman, like we don’t have anymore. What a beautiful colour your skin is. Foreigners said island girls were sweet and willing to do anything they were asked. She fell for it only once, but the Romeo gave away his plan when he let slip how nice she would be able to make his apartment. If she wanted to be someone’s wife, she could have stayed home.

Marina wants to strike out on her own, not tied from the outset to anyone who believes he has the right to control her. She wants to go abroad like other women she has known; traditions to go to Europe are old in her country. She chooses to buy papers and services from small-time ‘travel agents’. On her second trip to Spain things go wrong, but not because of smugglers’ evil intentions against her; rather they are competing with each other for pieces of the smuggling pie.

Discussions of the fate of women like Marina generally talk over their heads. The wrongness of sex tourism and lack of options for females under patriarchy are the topic, while the pragmatic decisions women make in the here and now are sidelined. In The Three-Headed Dog, as in Sex at the Margins, their actions are the story.

hqdefaultMany times, their goal is to make enough money to build a simple house back home. Other times, they decide to try to stay abroad.

Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

Sex on Sunday: Sleaze and survival, taxi-dancing in Times Square

The increase in coverage of anti-trafficking operations and Rescue Industry rhetoric is such that I only blog about a tiny fraction of it. I post much much more on facebook, short commentary on media articles, and sometimes interesting conversations ensue. You can subscribe to my facebook posts (I don’t accept many friend requests now). You can also follow me on twitter.

As part of my thinking about how the sex industry fits within everyday cultures, here are photos showing how striptease and taxi dancing were traditionally wedged into the Times Square landscape. Some venues survived the clean-up of the 1990s, especially on upper floors, but few are left now. Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York records losses such as these. Both he and I are perfectly aware that developers as well as a lot of middle-class folks consider these places to be sleazy, the adjective usually invoked for such small sex-businesses run on shoe-strings and charging little to the clientele, crunched into small spaces on streets that get less public sweeping than they need. Some see beauty in them or just appreciate the individuality of the facades, so unlike the shopping-mall homogeneity now dominant in Times Square, often called Disneyfication.

We don’t have to be overly sentimental or ignore sexism and other injustices perpetrated inside these little businesses to appreciate that they look like individual places – workplaces for some, entertainment places for others. It’s appealing, too, that dance venues are sandwiched between lighting shops and delis – note Parisian dancing above Whelan’s Drugs.

Taxi-dancing, which some of these palaces offered, involves a lot of waiting around for the dancers, who must try not to look too bored. It’s a break in the emotional labour of flirting while at the same time keeping distance.

Images of taxi-dance girls as immoral seductresses abounded not so long ago.

Although it sounds charmingly antique, taxi-dancing lives on in other parts of New York. And here are some non-taxi dance pictures from an earlier Sunday: erotic, exotic, artistic, talented). Below, taxi-dancing far from Times Square, in the state of Montana.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

Vocational training as Rescue so far mostly useless: sex workers in India

India mandated the rehabilitation of sex workers last year – in case they want to be rehabilitated. The story below tells how the concept has become a subject of dispute. Two activist authorities give reasons why vocational training is problematic:

In many cases, women get into prostitution after trying out other options like domestic work, as sex work is more remunerative.

Rehabilitation cannot be on moral grounds alone. Recommendations made by the court or the panel should have a long-term financial benefit as well as ways to involve the family and other members of the society to give prostitutes social security.

Someone else says some women have been glad to work at MacDonalds instead. This is of course considered morally superior to prostitution, but what about dancing?

Girls who danced in the bars of Mumbai . . . found a means of earning a livelihood that was more paying than sex work… But even this was banned on moral grounds whereas what was needed was to make these places more safe for women.

And Dignity for All

Saheli Mitra, 1 February 2012, The Telegraph (India)

In September 1999 a sex worker in Calcutta was murdered by a prospective client after she refused to have sex with him. When the case (Budhadev Karmaskar vs the State of West Bengal) went to the Supreme Court, the latter passed a landmark judgment, stressing that Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees the right to live with dignity, includes a prostitute’s right to lead a life of dignity as well. To ensure that right, last July the Supreme Court set up a five-member panel to work towards providing sex workers with alternative means of livelihood. It was supposed to come up with a list of impoverished sex workers who wished to be rehabilitated as the apex court did not wish to coerce them into changing their profession. Initially, the panel was supposed to concentrate on the four metros and was to involve the local NGOs in this effort.

However, since then little progress seems to have been made in this regard. So much so that last week a bench of Justices Altamas Kabir and Gyan Sudha Mishra of the Supreme Court asked senior advocate Pradeep Ghosh, who heads the panel, to submit another report on the work done so far. The bench said it would like to monitor the rehabilitation process by the Centre and the states so as to ensure that the exercise was not just an eyewash. “We routinely have conferences and seminars on these issues and the matter ends there. No concrete measures are taken to end the malaise. We want to make sure that something is done that satisfies our conscience. It should not be a mere eyewash,” the bench said. . .

The Centre has already paid Rs 10 lakh to the panel to kickstart the work. But though the state governments too have been directed to pay amounts ranging from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 10 lakh, depending on the number of sex workers in their states, very few have made the payment so far. In fact, reacting to the panel’s complaint that state governments were sitting on the money to be paid, the Supreme Court has directed all of them to pay up and submit a list of the number of prostitutes they want to rehabilitate.

But though the Supreme Court’s initiative is a noble one, many feel that it may finally come to nought as attempts to rehabilitate prostitutes through vocational training have failed in most cases.

As Mumbai-based lawyer and human rights activist Flavia Agnes points out, “It has been amply proved that vocational training has not solved the issue of sex work or trafficking. In fact, in many cases, women get into prostitution after trying out other options like domestic work as sex work is more remunerative. Would any of us work at a job which pays one tenth of our current earnings? Then how can we expect a sex worker to be happy with this choice,” she asks.

Women’s activist Saswati Ghosh believes the whole approach to the rehabilitation of sex workers is wrong-headed and paternalistic. “Rehabilitation cannot be on moral grounds alone. Recommendations made by the court or the panel should have a long-term financial benefit as well as ways to involve the family and other members of the society to give prostitutes social security,” she says.

Agnes gives the example of girls who danced in the bars of Mumbai. Many of them had found a means of earning a livelihood that was more paying than sex work. “This was a viable alternative that women had found for themselves. But even this was banned on moral grounds whereas what was needed was to make these places more safe for women.”

However, human rights lawyer Tapas Kumar Bhanja points out that the apex court judgment does take into account the need for giving sex workers a financially viable alternative livelihood. “It says governments should make arrangements to provide a market for the trade in which the women are trained. So the panel’s work will not be over with merely training the woman. It has to ensure that she earns enough to support herself and her family.” And there are instances where this approach has worked, he says. A recent survey revealed that prostitutes placed in MacDonalds, Dominos, food courts, etc. by Mumbai-based NGO Prerana have not returned to the flesh trade. “Some of them are in touch with Prerana and are doing well,” he says. . .

So one solution does not fit all, but the requirement that alternative jobs be financially viable is a bit vague. Wages and working conditions in fast-food outlets are not going to interest a great number of people, whatever their present jobs are. The failure to figure out what sex workers actually want is reflected in numerous stories of rejected Rescues.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

Sex on Sunday: dancer solidarity, urban strip clubs, judge patronises strippers

There are other images to show to illustrate news about striptease than stereotypical posed bodies on poles, or even bodies at all, including lap dancer solidarity (above) and efforts to unionise (below).

Here’s a clear-cut example with which to illustrate the concept of hypocrisy, if anyone needs one:

Judge Criminalizes Strip Club, Patronizes Stripper, by Dr Marty Klein

A 67-year-old guy is arrested by the FBI for illegally using marijuana, cocaine, and prescription painkillers with a stripper over many months. In addition to purchasing lap dances and sex with her at a strip club, he had a sexual relationship with her outside lasting many months. Nothing unusual about this. A lot of victimless crimes, but crimes nevertheless. It turns out that the guy is a longtime federal judge, appointed by Ronald Reagan. . .

And here are a few strip clubs located in interesting urban buildings.


Turf wars associated with lap dancing: It’s all about men

No claim of 40 000 victims of trafficking for this big race held annually in Cheltenham. But it is interesting to see how the police describe the actual crimes that concern them in connexion with the sex industry – here, lap dancing clubs. Although there is some stuff about indecency and the reporter mentions sex trafficking, police concern seems to be about violent competition between people taking advantage of temporary licences for lap dancing.

The report illustrates something I’ve believed for some time: that women and sex are actually not the core issue. This is a struggle between the men in the centre – men in suits – and the men they fear, who live in alternative arenas of power and under different laws. This police report brings that out without the usual trappings of horror over the fate of women.

Fears over Gold Cup week lap dancing turf wars in Cheltenham

11 October 2010, This is Gloucestershire

Fears of organised gang crime and sex trafficking have prompted police to call for tough new laws on lap dancing in Cheltenham. Officers say the flurry of temporary strip clubs which spring up in the town during Gold Cup week sparks turf wars between agents and nightclub owners.

The borough council will consider today whether to adopt new government legislation, which would tighten controls – and police have urged councillors to rubber-stamp the move. Licensing officer Andy Cook said:

We support the adoption of this legislation as it will assist further in controlling such activity and help minimise associated incidents of disorder. Each year, during race week, the constabulary receives a few complaints from members of the public about such activity and the marketing which surrounds it. Regular checks are made on all licensed venues to ensure they are upholding the conditions of their licence.

According to police records, disputes between lap dancing agents and club owners in Cheltenham have led to a petrol bomb being thrown at a nightclub window. A bouncer was also hospitalised when an agent’s minders tried to attack a club manager who had employed girls without his approval.

Officers said lap dancers could earn up to £5,000 a week – making the industry an attractive prospect for criminal gangs and international traffickers. Police believe there are direct links between lap dancing and prostitution, drugs, pornography and illegal immigrants.

The council has also received complaints of “scantily-clad women” patrolling the town centre to attract business from racing fans. A report for today’s meeting said council officers found handbills providing “adult entertainment” all over the town in March. It also said there had been complaints of “indecent flyers being distributed and being left on the ground for children to find the next day”.

At the moment, licensed venues can transform into strip clubs if owners serve the council with a temporary event notice. During Gold Cup this year, six businesses served the borough with a notice, which meant they could hold events for up to a maximum of 96 hours as long as they informed the council and police.

The new powers under Section 27 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 not only outlaw the temporary notices, but also give local authorities the power to impose tighter rules on lap dancing clubs by forcing them to apply for a sex establishment licence rather than a public entertainment licence.

Currently, the Blue Room in St Margaret’s Road is Cheltenham’s only licensed lap dancing club. If it is adopted, the new legislation will mainly be used to give the borough council more control over whether new clubs should be allowed to set up in the town. At the moment, councillors can only turn down applications for a lap dancing club on the grounds of crime, public safety and the protection of children. Today’s full council meeting will be held in the Municipal Offices at 2.30pm.