Sex Trafficking and the Nature of Voluntary Sex Work


Historically, female prostitutes and sex workers were most commonly poor, captives, or enslaved. This relates to the concepts of modern trafficking, where the social subordination of women as wives and no familial sexual servants persists in many countries and cultures. The patriarchal social order allows men sexual access to women through implied agreements in institutions of marriage and prostitution. [1] The history of the global sex trade has been highly diluted from the white radical feminist, neo-Marxist and Western socialist feminist perspectives, undermining and generalizing the first and third-world women of color’s experiences with racism, colonialism, militarism, and globalization. [1] Sex tourism exists in the poor nations of the global south for the travelers and military personnel of the global north, attracting foreign capital. While these women can be trafficked, it is important to not assume this is the case for all sex workers in the global south. Nevertheless, these sex workers are often marginalized groups as in the United States, and their basic human and worker rights are often violated. The focus should be turned not onto attacking these markets, but to decrease the recruitment of children and socially vulnerable people. [1]

The UN Optional Protocol of Trafficking in Human Beings (Palermo Protocol) does not describe a different protocol for “forced” prostitution, but instead labels prostitution as a major component of trafficking. [2] The pro-sex-work Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women (GAATW) describes the causes and factors of trafficking as “the desire for a better life, poverty, gender and other forms of discrimination, family disintegration, negative cultural and religious practices, and the substantial profits that can be made from the trade.” [2] It does not differentiate these factors from the motivations of traffickers and those trafficked and mentions the gender inequality within trafficking, as young girls are given less education and alternative employment options than young boys. One major red flag persists: the demand of commercial sex by men is not listed as a cause or factor for trafficking. The organization also has a narrative of describing the nature of voluntary sex work in regards to women who use their bodies to further economic self-interest, regardless of the presence of other means for economic gain. [2]

[1] Shrage, “Feminist Perspectives on Sex Markets.”

[2] Miriam, “Stopping the Traffic in Women,” 1-17.

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