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Laura Agustín's picture

Beirut’s sex tourism, sex industry, sex work - and a pimp’s voice

I notice that more of these reports from around the world are asking pimps for information, particularly about money issues. The voice of the pimp usually brags, claims terrific success, high earnings. Sex workers sound like passive objects indeed. Take, for example, the report from Malaysia. But rather than discount everything these businessmen say, I listen to the logistical information they provide. Note in this story about Beirut how arrangements are made between tourists and sex workers - not so different from those mentioned in a recent post about seamen, ships in port and party girls. Note, too, that the first sex tourist mentioned is a young Saudi woman who enjoys freedom and night life in Beirut: no mention of paying for sex in her case.

The concept of sex tourism is another that gets thrown around without much investigation about what it means in specific circumstances. Many people on holiday feel like experimenting, want to go wild, enjoy breaking their hometown’s sexual norms. Paying may be involved, but payments may be made to guides, translators and natives who present as pick-ups. To say sex tourist is to imply that someone conspired to travel abroad for the express purpose of having sex; more often tourists buy all sorts of services, sometimes including sex, and sometimes not getting what they bargained for.

I talked not long ago about different prices for sex workers from different ethnic groups, in relation to a sign in Hong Kong. This issue arises here, too.

Laura Agustín's picture

Sex workers and Violence against Women: Utopic Visions or Battle of the Sexes?

(From Border Thinking on Migration, Trafficking and Commercial Sex)

How is it feminist, if the goal is improving society and achieving more equality amongst human beings, to focus on crime and punishment? Published in 2001, this article provoked horror in some sectors. Although I wouldn’t write it exactly the same way now, I stand by its ideas. If Gender Equality is one of feminism’s goals, how can we imagine it without reducing everything to black and white, perpetrator and victim, crime, crime, crime?

Sex workers and Violence Against Women: Utopic Visions or Battle of the Sexes?

Laura Mª Agustín

Development, 44.3, 107-110 (2001)

Sexual exploitation and prostitution

In the movement to construct a discourse of ‘violence against women’, and thus to raise consciousness about kinds of mistreatment which before were invisible, the stage has been reached where defining crime and achieving punishment appears to be the goal. While it is progressive to raise consciousness about violence and exploitation in an attempt to deter the commitment of crimes, I hope to show that the present emphasis on discipline is very far from a utopic vision and that we should now begin to move toward other suggestions for solutions.

The following argument uses the example of prostitution or ‘sexual exploitation’ as an instance of ‘violence against women’, but the approach can apply to any attempt to deal with not only definitions of gender and sexual violence but with proposals to deal with them. When applied to adult prostitution, the term ‘sexual exploitation’ attempts to change language to make ‘voluntary’ prostitution impossible. For those who wish to ‘abolish’ prostitution, therefore, this change in terms represents progress, for now language itself will not be complicit with the violence involved. For those who may or may not want to ‘abolish’ prostitution but who in the present put the priority on improving the everyday lot of prostitutes, this language change totalizes a variety of situations involving different levels of personal will and makes it more difficult to propose practical solutions. When applied to the prostitution of children, the term ‘sexual exploitation’ represents a project to change perceptions about childhood. For those who believe that the current western model of childhood as a time of innocence should become the ‘right’ of all children in the world, this term is very important.

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