Migrant brothel workers who oppose raids and want to work tell why

Laura Agustín's picture

(Posted at Border Thinking on Migration, Trafficking and Commercial Sex)

I just gave a talk about irregular migration and informal-sector jobs, including in the sex industry, at a conference in Copenhagen. The talk was well-received, but as always most people say they have not heard my point of view before. So to make sure everyone realises that my ideas are not the result of an ideology about prostitution, I run this photo again of a poster prepared by migrant sex workers (self-identified so) in Chiang Mai, Thailand, at the EMPOWER centre.

See for yourself the list of reasons migrant sex workers at Barn Su Funn Brothel gave for opposing raids and rescue operations intended to liberate them, whether rescuers are police officers, ngo employees or charity workers:

• We lose our savings and our belongings.
• We are locked up.
• We are interrogated by many people.
• They force us to be witnesses.
• We are held until the court case.
• We are held till deportation.
• We are forced re-training.
• We are not given compensation by anybody.
• Our family must borrow money to survive while we wait.
• Our family is in a panic.
• We are anxious for our family.
• Strangers visit our village telling people about us.
• The village and the soldiers cause our family problems.
• Our family has to pay ‘fines’ or bribes to the soldiers.
• We are sent home.
• Military abuses and no work continues at home.
• My family has a debt.
• We must find a way back to Thailand to start again.

The poster brings us close to a situation many people doubt: that poorer migrants selling sex often prefer to continue what they’re doing to being forcibly rescued by people on anti-trafficking crusades. This is not to cast doubt on all rescuers’ good intentions, but it shows how they obviously haven’t consulted the prostitutes they want to save first, to find out whether they want to be helped and, if they do, what kind of help would actually be helpful!  The poster makes it clear that cutting migrant women off from their source of income has terrible consequences both for themselves and their families.

This does not mean that they or I deny the existence of abusive practices inflicted during smuggling and trafficking operations. It means that an ideological stance that claims all migrants doing sex work have been victims of such practices is wrong.

During my 15 years of researching this subject, I have met migrants of all nationalities, in many countries, in bars, brothels, shelters, ngo offices, streets and houses. Some had had bad experiences, some had not recovered from them, some were getting on with the next stage of their lives, some enjoyed doing sex work, many had adapted to it as the best option of the moment. For those who want to read more about it, my book Sex at the Margins has extensive interesting information!

Thanks once more to the Asia-Pacific Network of Sex Workers for sending this photo.

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