Tag Archives: español

Who are migrant sex workers?

You paid someone to help you leave home, travel across borders or into unknown areas of your own country. You knew you’d be selling sex but probably not much about how it would work. You might not think of yourselves as migrants but as travellers. There’s no need for you to label yourselves based on jobs you take. But others will talk about you and find it convenient to give you an identity-label: Migrant sex workers. Foreign prostitutes. Escorts. Victims of trafficking. Sex slaves.

You look like other woman travellers in the airport. Maybe you bought the ticket online yourself, or maybe someone else did and gave you the booking number. You might be using your own passport applied for by you in the normal way in your country. Or maybe you paid someone to get you a passport under another name or age. You may understand that this implies your connivance in committing crime, or you may not.

However things work out for you, there will be stories about how miserable you are. No way out for Almería’s prostitutes relies on the fact that most undocumented migrants, whatever your jobs, take on debt in order to leave home, arrive to another place and get into paying work. The debts often sound outlandish to outsiders, leading them to describe you as enslaved (using the term debt bondage when they don’t ever refer to mortage- or student-loans like that).

A recent photo series taken at a brothel in Roquetas de Mar purports to show how awful living and working conditions are for migrant sex workers: Infamous Farmhouses (Cortijos de la infamia). But, if you already know from personal experience how poverty and informal or illegal businesses look, you won’t be upset by shots of rubbish in the street. You may even see the bright side of landscapes or interiors, despite their being shot with the purpose of horrifying outsiders. [Note that the caption to this photo describes the women as fleeing inside to escape photographers.]

The disconnect between how outsiders see these scenes and what they mean to migrants is apparently unfixable. I was once challenged, after a speech I’d given, to admit that migrants are, objectively speaking, victims (because of structural inequalities if nothing else, but of course there was a lot else.) I responded that I understood why she, a middle-class educated and avowed Socialist, might view poor migrants as victims. But, I said, if you shift to their point of view then you don’t see things that way. You see yourselves as taking actions to get ahead inside very shitty life circumstances.. That’s what I do, rather than labelling. I look at the situation from the subjects’ standpoint.

There’s no doubt that smugglers often lie and take advantage of travellers who have paid for their services. But campaigns to keep everyone at home in case they might be mistreated by smugglers miss the fundamental point: In the absence of hope for the future people are willing to take risks. In the case of Colombian women hiring smugglers to take them to China, the government campaign aims to ensure that ‘women don’t believe in the offers of easy money to be made abroad.’ But money is made abroad, and lots of it, and no migrant I ever met expected it to be easy. More to the point, everyone doesn’t suffer the same abuse; experiences vary. But what all migrants are doing is taking risks.

It’s not fair, of course it’s not. But insisting everyone is by definition better off staying at home rather than taking risks is crazy in a world where transport is easily available and the adventure of travel is promoted constantly. And without new kinds of flexible migration policies the informal market where smugglers operate will continue unregulated. Putting smugglers in prison will not stop others from entering the field. [Note smugglers are often referred to as travel agents by their paying customers.]

In Sex at the Margins, I avoided labelling women migrants as much as possible. On Twitter I often use the tag #migrantsexworkers for brevity’s sake, but most people don’t label themselves anything. Imagine the term migrant construction workers or migrant kitchen help: they sound silly because it’s understood that they’re not identities. They’re temporary descriptions of folks going through a life-stage. Plenty of women who sell sex don’t call themselves sex workers or prostitutes or anything else. I used to hear women saying I work at night. For that matter, even if you identify as a victim of trafficking, that, too, is a temporary description. Not an identity.

After all, you may have started out doing another job after moving to a new country. For women that’s likely to be some kind of domestic service (as a maid, nanny, cleaner). But if and when that didn’t work out you may have switched to selling sex. Take the recent case of a Bangladeshi migrant in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

In The Three-Headed Dog, characters are going through migration processes, not taking on job-labels. Yes, it’s a crime novel, but one about ordinary people in common situations. They have names, they talk, and none is either a Happy Hooker or a permanently damaged victim. I began writing fiction about these subjects to escape from tedious, repetitive debate-formats where black-and-white questions make nuance impossible.

I’m now being accused by fanatics of ‘sanitising’ injustice by sometimes using the term migrant sex workers. Thank goodness it doesn’t matter to most of you which language or label I use: call yourself what you like. That’s the point.

-Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

Sexwork and migration fiction, part 3: Location and nation

two-women-sitting-at-a-bar-1902.jpg!LargeEvery reviewer has to mention a different defect in the book under review: That was my conclusion when reviews of Sex at the Margins were proliferating. Some of the defects pointed to said more about the reviewer than the book, like the English academic who dismissed the research because it had taken place in Spain. I laughed a lot at that one. If you’re interested in migration and globalisation then nation becomes a funny category.

The other day I was interviewed by an investigator interested in undocumented migration in The Three-Headed Dog. We met in a blue bar and drank from stemmed glasses. She agreed I may publish a few points of our conversation, on the subject of place, location and nationality. Her name is Zelda.

mapZelda: Why did you situate The Three-Headed Dog in Spain? Is the plot special to the Costa del Sol? Or could it be moved to Britain or Italy or the state of Florida?

Laura: Spain has long been part of my own life and I lived in Granada while I was reading and doing fieldwork for and then writing what became Sex at the Margins. The Costa del Sol is one of the most fluid and confusing places I know, full of every sort of human mobility, and therefore appealing to me.

The stories in The Dog could be moved in terms of every important concept: How migrants reason and feel about what they’re doing and the sorts of networks they live in. The way they have to look for jobs and housing, the existing in and crossing out of social margins. Those are universal dynamics for undocumented migrants anywhere in the world. But margins feel different according to the terrain and the historical moment. migrantes-coahuiIf the scene were set elsewhere plot-mechanics would vary according to local laws and policing, cultural ideas about sex and women’s mobility, the availability of black-market jobs and the ease of getting out if things go wrong. If there is a coast, boats are an option. Sometimes trains are easily hopped.

Zelda: What about the migrants, are they interchangeable? Could the group of Dominicans on the airplane just as well be Chinese? What about the young Romanian smuggler, could he be Greek? Could Polish Tanya be French? Does anything about nationality matter?

Laura: The human responses portrayed are not unique to any nationality, but some of the mechanics of migration would have to change if you were to make arbitrary switches. For example, Tanya might humanly be French, but she’d be less likely to set up a cleaning service in Madrid. Or the Dominican club-owner, Carlos: If he were Chinese he might certainly run a hostess-bar, but it would be in another part of Madrid, and have a different style, perhaps with gambling, and would the protagonist Félix plausibly have become his close friend?

125969_day labor_GMK_The key to making the story work in any particular place is knowing how migrant networks function and the patterns that have developed based on (1) the possibility of getting visas to other countries and (2) colonial and other dependency/linguistic histories that lead to family relationships. For instance, Brazilians have visa-freedom to travel to Portugal, which is part of Schengen territory, meaning they cross easily into Spain and rest of Europe. Dominican women have a long history as maids and sex workers in Spain – over generations. These are migrations that give meaning to the word transnational.


Zelda: Can migrant women become sex workers anywhere, whether there’s some kind of regulated sex work or not?

Laura: The two jobs available everywhere to undocumented women are maiding and sex work, but if the plot were picked up and put down in Hong Kong, say, then adjustments would be needed to the kinds of sex businesses where migrants are likely to get employed. And to take up any kind of sex work without knowing the local context and laws, without knowing a few people on the inside, who can give informed advice, is highly risky. This is why there are roles for ‘protectors’ in the migration process, and most of them are not monsters. The plot would have to reflect this.

Zelda: What about racism? Aren’t some countries worse in that way? Wouldn’t that make a big difference to where you set the story?

imgresLaura: In the book, several of the Dominicans reflect on racial hierarchies that affect them in Spain, including those that give some dark ethnicities more cachet than their own. All cultures have ideas and prejudices about Others. But also mixing and hybridity are everywhere, even if more in some places than in others. The consequences are always the same: natives feel threatened, some promote xenophobia, governments talk about tightening borders. But there are colonial histories that can make natives feel that some foreigners are closer to themselves than others, whether their skin is blacker or not.

Zelda: So colonial things, like language. Dominicans who go to Spain already speak Spanish, which has to be an advantage, right? What would happen if you changed the group on the plane to Chinese? Isn’t the whole thing much harder if it’s a new language?

20130516-3L: Not as much as you imagine. Félix visits a Chinese migrant who runs a big variety store and who stands up well to extortion attempts because she has community behind her. Migrants come via networks whether they are legal or not. And migrants from different communities often communicate more easily with each other in the new language, because they all speak more slowly or with a common vocabulary. Then, too, sharing language can work the other way: when Dominicans speak, Spanish listeners know where they are from and bring negative cultural baggage to bear.

Z: The Costa del Sol has all kinds of ethnic groups in it, but you mention places like a Danish church and the urbanizaciones where everyone living there is the same nationality. Don’t a lot of migrants stick to their own kind? Isn’t there insularity among other Europeans who have made second homes on the coast?

CDN-Annons-tidning-2014-09-Svenska-400Laura: There is, but not forever for everyone. Europeans trying to settle and start businesses feel ambivalent about what they’ve left behind and anxious to hold onto their national selves. You see signs in Swedish or German, shops with food items imported so other cuisines can be maintained. But over time things loosen up for a lot of people, they become more curious and less fearful, they make new connections and cultures blend. And for some people, being in a mixed place with a shifting sense of belonging becomes interesting. They don’t find it so easy to answer the question Where are you from? It’s more about This is where I am now. I wrote about this kind of cosmopolitanism among sex workers in Leaving Home for Sex, many years ago.

For more about The Three-Headed Dog, a noir/mystery novel on sexwork and migration, see
Sexwork and Migration Mystery
Melodrama and Archetypes
Jobs in the Sex Industry

-Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

Trabalho sexual é trabalho: Porto, Portugal

Otra vez las trabajadoras sexuales de Porto (Portugal) están con otros trabajadores en la marcha del primero de mayo. Sigue un editorial de Alexandra Oliveira sobre la manera de estigmatizar a las mujeres que venden sexo, por parte de gente que debería saber mejor (por ejemplo los comunistas). Apunta Alexandra:

No desfilo do May Day aqui no Porto, a União de Sindicatos do Porto que pertence a essa central sindical, queria impedir a nossa palavra de ordem “Trabalho sexual é trabalho”. O nosso grupo não deixou e levamos a nossa faixa.

Sigue pulsando en la imagen para aumentarla.

Prohibir anuncios de contactos no combate la trata ni en Mexico ni en ninguna parte

La campaña contra los anuncios sexuales (anuncios de contactos, anuncios clasificados) triunfa en México. Es una onda bien conocida en España, como comenté el año pasado, pero esta noticia es más dramática:

Cárcel a quien publique anuncios relacionados con comercio sexual

La Jornada, 16 de marzo 2011

Los propietarios de periódicos, revistas y medios de comunicación electrónica que publiquen anuncios relacionados con la explotación y el comercio sexual purgarán condenas de cárcel sin derecho a fianza. La reforma a la ley para prevenir y sancionar la trata de personas prevé penas de 27 años de cárcel para los responsables de la contratación de anuncios sexuales. Por mayoría de 401 votos y seis abstenciones, el pleno camaral coincidió en establecer un freno a la publicidad que se difunde incluso en diarios de circulación nacional y en las principales televisoras, donde se pretende contratar a víctimas potenciales del comercio sexual.

Aquí va un comentario de un grupo que lucha por los derechos de las personas que venden sexo en México,

Prohibición de anuncios sexuales incrementará el trabajo sexual callejero

Jaime Montejo, Agencia de Noticias Independiente Noti-Calle, Brigada Callejera de Apoyo a la Mujer “Elisa Martínez”, 22 marzo 2011, México DF

* El espíritu humanista del decreto choca con la realidad mexicana.
* Clandestiniza la oferta de sexo comercial y la pone en manos de explotadores sexuales.
* Institucionaliza la trata sexual, a la cuál dice combatir.

Es un acierto que la LXI Legislatura de la Cámara de Diputados federal institucionalice la trata de personas con fines de explotación sexual al aprobar el decreto presentado por la Comisión de Derechos Humanos de dicha institución. Esa es la buena intención del espíritu humanista del decreto, loable por cierto, que busca sancionar a quienes promueven la trata de personas a través de anuncios en medios de comunicación como la prensa escrita y el internet.

Espíritu humanista que choca con la realidad mexicana actual, donde además de la extorsión habitual de que son objeto las trabajadoras sexuales en todo el país por parte de funcionarios públicos, así como de las ganancias de su trabajo que se apropian los empresarios del sexo y de las nuevas cuotas que les ha impuesto el narcotráfico, ahora tendrán que dejar una derrama económica en “manos oscuras” que les garanticen ganarse la vida en el sexo comercial.

Según el decreto que modifica el artículo 5 de la Ley para Prevenir y Sancionar la Trata de Personas, incurrirá en el delito de trata de personas quien contrate los espacios o de a conocer desplegados o anuncios de ese tipo, que genéricamente incluyen la publicidad que se hace a servicios sexuales. Dicho artículo quedará como sigue: “La persona que contrate publicidad por cualquier medio de comunicación, así como la persona que publique anuncios, que encuadren en alguna de las conductas del delito de trata de personas será sancionada conforme a lo dispuesto en el artículo 6 de esta ley…”.

Por fin todas las fracciones parlamentarias en un acuerdo sin precedentes en el país pudieron hacer realidad los sueños de políticos con vocación proxeneta, al doblegar a quienes trabajan sexualmente por su cuenta, que contaban con la posibilidad de anunciarse en periódicos, revistas y páginas de internet, sin que mediara ningún otro explotador en dicha negociación sexual que no fuera el medio en el cuál promovían sus servicios sexuales.

Nadie niega que dichos anuncios son un gran negocio y que periódicos enteros obtien millonarios ingresos con ellos. Tampoco se cuestiona el hecho de que algunos anunciantes contraten para un solo día 50 o más anuncios en un solo periódico. No está en duda que haya otros anuncios que pretenden enganchar a jovencitas y mujeres para realizar servicios sexuales.

El asunto es que no hay un sólo tipo de prostitución como pretenden las abolicionistas feministas, católicas o cristianas, ni tampoco todas las personas que ejercen el trabajo sexual están emancipadas como lo señalan madrotas de Sullivan, Tlalpan, la merced, la zona rosa del Distrito Federal o de los nuevos centros nocturnos que se encuentran entre la calzada Lázaro Cárdenas y el zócalo del Distrito Federal.

La legislatura federal nunca quiso escuchar la voz de las trabajadoras sexuales. Tampoco les convocó para escuchar sus opiniones. Nunca consideraron el impacto funesto que dicha norma jurídica tendrá sobre la prevención del VIH/Sida. La única palabra que escucharon fue la aquellas personas que pretenden “salvar a las víctimas de la prostitución”.

El problema aquí es que no todas las trabajadoras sexuales son víctimas, como se pretende hacer parecer, ni todas son esclavas de proxenetas. Explotadas sí, como toda persona que se ve obligada a vender su fuerza de trabajo para ganarse la vida, en donde sea que tenga que hacerlo. Brigada Callejera de Apoyo a la Mujer “Elisa Martínez” A.C., organización de la sociedad civil dedicada a la defensa de los derechos humanos y civiles de las trabajadoras sexuales, conoce ambos planteamientos. Sin embargo, ambas posturas son reduccionistas y muestras sólo una parte de la realidad del comercio sexual.

Qué curioso, que una propuesta abolicionista, esa de prohibir los anuncios de contactos sexuales, facilite y promueva la trata de personas con fines de explotación sexual; así como lo hacen los operativos anti trata del gobierno de la Procuraduría General de Justicia del Distrito Federal (PGJ DF), o de la PGR que terminan haciendo más clandestino el trabajo sexual, sea éste esclavo, servil, asalariado o no asalariado. Decreto y operativos policíacos que dejan en pocas manos y bien gandallas por cierto a quienes trabajan hasta hace poco por su cuenta, que ahora tendrán que vérselas con las y los impulsores de dicha iniciativa legislativa, trátese de diputadas, senadores, delegados (como Agustín Torres de Cuauhtémoc), presidentes municipales, fiscales de delitos sexuales o de fiscalías especiales anti trata sexual y jefes policíacos, para poder trabajar como en los tiempos de la Dirección Federal de Seguridad de la Secretaría de Gobernación, que perseguía a guerrilleros, luchadores sociales y trabajadoras-es sexuales, con saña y odio extremo.

Las opciones para trabajar en el sexo, serán “contratarse” con un empresario del sexo, buscar el apoyo de “enganchadores” bien relacionados con los funcionarios públicos de turno, “apoyarse” en algún legislador o recurrir al crimen organizado para poder vender servicios sexuales sin la molestia de dichas disposiciones.

Para el caso es lo mismo: mayor clandestinidad del oficio, lo que aliviará las conciencias de católicos, cristianos y feministas, al no ver lo que se hace fuera del alcance de su vista. De paso, aumentarán las cuotas de extorsión que pagan las trabajadoras sexuales y muchas tendrán que recurrir a la oferta de servicios sexuales en la vía pública, manejadas por madrotas y padrotes con una vieja escuela de explotación sexual y trata de personas. Como dice un refrán, el camino al infierno, en este caso al infierno de la trata con fines de explotación sexual, está tapizado de buenas intenciones como el decreto que modifica la Ley para Prevenir y Sancionar la Trata de Personas, y tipifica como un delito grave la contratación de espacios publicitarios o de a conocer desplegados o anuncios de servicios sexuales.

Sexo y marginalidad en América Latina

Distribuidores en América Latina para Sexo y marginalidad. Emigración, mercado de trabajo e industria del rescate, publicado por Editorial Popular, España.

La portada del libro original, publicado por Zed Books, expresa perfectamente lo que yo quería, mientras la de la versión castellana es todo lo contrario (no me consultaron a mí desde Editorial Popular). El contenido es lo mismo, sin embargo!

Los siguientes distribuidores no van a tener ejemplares disponibles siempre pero se puede pedir de ellos sin pagar enormes gastos de envío.

Proeme – Librería Guadalquivir
Tel.: 4952 1058 / 6173

Chile / Perú:
A.B. Representaciones generales
Tel.: 427 84 83

Siglo del Hombre
Tel.: 3377700
Editorial Reverte
tel.: 244 5192 / 268 5929

Librería Studium

El Salvador:
Universidad Centro Americana de José Simeón Caña (librería)

Alejandría distribuidora
Av. Universidad 1953 Edificio 22L-3
Col. Colpico Universidad
México DF
Tel.: 5616-1319
Gamma Cultural
Tel.: 573 30681

Exedra Books
Tel.: 507 264 4252

Losa Libros

Laboratorio Educativo
Tel.: 952 6150 9526530