Understanding Exploitation in Consensual Sex Work to Inform Occupational Health & Safety Regulation

A special issue of Social Sciences (ISSN 2076-0760).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 December 2020) | Viewed by 53947

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Special Issue Editor

Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC V8P 5C2, Canada
Interests: intersections of gender, class and Indigeneity; sexualities; health and human rights; evidence-based policy
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Special Issue Information

Dear Colleague,

Sex work is bifurcated in most countries around the world today, without consensus on laws and regulations affecting those who willingly sell sexual services. In a few jurisdictions, sex work has been conceptualized as paid labor that may involve economic exploitation, and government protection has extended occupational and social rights to sex workers similar to those enjoyed by other workers. In most other jurisdictions, sex work is presumed to be sexual exploitation and resulted in the criminalization of sexual purchase and Criminal Code and other sanctions against those who attempt to buy sexual services and manage sex work establishments.

The laws and regulations determined by these different views of the exploitation of sex workers have a crucial impact on public policy that empower or disempower sex workers and improve or worsen their health, safety and social rights. Social science research that manages to capture the voices of sex workers about their working conditions, the extent of exploitation they experience in their job, and what they want in regard to state protection and social rights more generally, is both germane and timely. Additionally, studies that clarify the conditions of exploitation and willing participation and studies of the intended and unintended effects of policy are pertinent. This Special Issue invites submissions that report on these interrelated issues. Papers from disadvantaged regions of the globe are especially welcomed.

Prof. Cecilia M. Benoit
Guest Editor

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Keywords

  • Sex work
  • sexual services
  • laws and regulations
  • exploitation

Published Papers (10 papers)

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Editorial

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9 pages, 420 KiB  
Editorial
Editorial: Understanding Exploitation in Consensual Sex Work to Inform Occupational Health & Safety Regulation: Current Issues and Policy Implications
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(7), 238; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10070238 - 22 Jun 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 4506
Abstract
The impetus behind this Special Issue emerged from a quest to move beyond binary thinking in the contemporary period about people who sell sexual services, including recent disputes about “sex trafficking vs [...] Full article
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Research

Jump to: Editorial

18 pages, 355 KiB  
Article
“I Will Not Be Dona Maria”: Rethinking Exploitation and Objectification in the Context of Work and Sex Work
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(6), 204; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10060204 - 31 May 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 4166
Abstract
In many feminist and sociological accounts of sex work, the concept of exploitation resides on the subjacent notion of objectification, codified in the omnipresent belief that the sex worker sells their body. Sexual objectification supposedly indicates the peculiar and particular effect that sex [...] Read more.
In many feminist and sociological accounts of sex work, the concept of exploitation resides on the subjacent notion of objectification, codified in the omnipresent belief that the sex worker sells their body. Sexual objectification supposedly indicates the peculiar and particular effect that sex work is supposed to have on the bodies of human beings involved in this form of toil, being one of the keystones for the belief that sex work is inherently exploitative. In the present article, we intend to investigate the canonical concept of objectification and its (ab)uses in the light of a comparative ethnographic study of sex work and other jobs in the service economy in the cities of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and New Orleans (USA). Our argument is that the concept of sexual objectification has its roots in pre-capitalist morality, encoded in Kantian philosophy, that is hardly applicable to real life in the 21st century. A more general and intersectional understanding of objectification and agency in the broader field of engendered labor relations is necessary for us to understand why people choose to engage in sex work, why laws which see sex work as synonymous with exploitation and slavery must be rethought, and how they might be rethought. Full article
20 pages, 367 KiB  
Article
Labouring in the Sex Industry: A Conversation with Sex Workers on Consent and Exploitation
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(3), 86; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10030086 - 02 Mar 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 7074
Abstract
Sex work in all its forms is an occupation that belongs to the service industry, and like any other work, sexual labour is open to exploitation. However, the reason why sex work is seen to be different from other forms of labour is [...] Read more.
Sex work in all its forms is an occupation that belongs to the service industry, and like any other work, sexual labour is open to exploitation. However, the reason why sex work is seen to be different from other forms of labour is that it betrays the socially accepted rules of love and intimacy and is exercised within a criminalised environment. As a cultural symbol, sex work remains steadfastly linked to aberration and dangerousness. This article juxtaposes the legal and lay definitions of consent and exploitation based on conversations with fourteen Canadian sex workers. The objective of this exploratory article is to delve within two ill-defined and highly contested notions related to the sex industry—consent and exploitation. Full article
17 pages, 559 KiB  
Article
The Chemsex ‘Consent Ladder’ in Male Sex Work: Perspectives of Health Providers on Derailment and Empowerment
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(2), 69; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10020069 - 10 Feb 2021
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 5537
Abstract
Sexualized substance use or ‘chemsex’ is a key element in the syndemic of violence and infection in gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men. Chemsex is more prolific amongst men who have sex with men but is also associated with [...] Read more.
Sexualized substance use or ‘chemsex’ is a key element in the syndemic of violence and infection in gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men. Chemsex is more prolific amongst men who have sex with men but is also associated with high risk behaviours that can negatively impact on health and wellbeing in heterosexual, bisexual men and women, and in homosexual women too. This qualitative study investigated perceptions and experiences of chemsex, motivations, cisgender male sex work, consent, economic exploitation, and ways to address and reduce harms. We conducted semi-structured interviews with health care providers and their clients—including sex workers and their customers (n = 14) between the ages of 28 and 46 years following a purposive sampling strategy. Interview topics included perceptions and experiences of chemsex use, reasons for drug use and chemsex, and proposals to address harms associated with chemsex in the UK. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, coded, and analysed using Grounded Theory. The findings revealed a stepwise process of chemsex use in a ‘ladder of consent’, whereby the process starts with willing participation that is both highly pleasurable and controllable. Sexual polydrug activity often descended in rungs so that lines of consent became blurred, and even broken, resulting in physical detriment and financial exploitation. Strategies for elevation back up the consent ladder also emerged. The findings clarify the conditions of willing participation, the stepwise relationship to exploitation, and the support strategies that help re-empower individuals whose lives get taken over by chemsex, including peer-to-peer support, poly-centres, and smartphone apps to climb back up the consent ladder to improve the health, safety, and social rights of sex workers. Full article
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19 pages, 373 KiB  
Article
“Sexual Exploitation” as a Logic, and Its Effects of Power in Contemporary Brazil
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(2), 41; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10020041 - 27 Jan 2021
Viewed by 2906
Abstract
The present article analyzes the category of “sexual exploitation” based upon the practices that are generally pointed to as part of this category, paying particular attention to its implications and effects on the lives of adolescents and upon state, social movement, and academic [...] Read more.
The present article analyzes the category of “sexual exploitation” based upon the practices that are generally pointed to as part of this category, paying particular attention to its implications and effects on the lives of adolescents and upon state, social movement, and academic abilities to understand the social relationships framed by this category. Our analysis is based on ethnographic fieldwork carried out between 2010 and 2015 among state agents and youth in the sex markets of two Brazilian cities in the Amazon border region. Our empirical data are connected to national and international literature, institutional documents, and our participation in educational activities regarding “sexual exploitation”. Our work indicates that “sexual exploitation” has been institutionally constructed as a poorly defined device that mobilizes conservative moralities regarding youth, sexuality, money, mobility, and gender experimentation. We also find that the youth involved in sex markets do not recognize the legitimacy of the policies carried out in the name of “combatting anti-sexual exploitation”. We conclude that the performative production of “sexual exploitation” as a logic of governmentality feeds back into an institutional grammar of distancing, perplexity, immobility, and excuses. This grammar does not contemplate—let alone care about—the gender experiences, sexualities, economic lives and affective troubles of the youth it targets for surveillance and tutelage. Full article
21 pages, 768 KiB  
Article
Job Attributes and Mental Health: A Comparative Study of Sex Work and Hairstyling
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(2), 35; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10020035 - 24 Jan 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 3932
Abstract
A growing literature advocates for using a labor perspective to study sex work. According to this approach, sex work involves many of the costs, benefits, and possibilities for exploitation that are common to many jobs. We add to the field with an examination [...] Read more.
A growing literature advocates for using a labor perspective to study sex work. According to this approach, sex work involves many of the costs, benefits, and possibilities for exploitation that are common to many jobs. We add to the field with an examination of job attributes and mental health. Our analysis is comparative and uses data from a panel study of people in sex work and hairstyling. We examined job attributes that may differ across these occupations, such as stigma and customer hostility, as well as those that may be more comparable, such as job insecurity, income, and self-employment. Our analysis used mixed-effects regression and included an array of time-varying and time-invariant variables. Our results showed negative associations between mental health and job insecurity and stigma, for both hairstyling and sex work. We also found two occupation-specific relationships: for sex work, limited discretion to make decisions while at work was negatively related to mental health, whereas for hairstyling, mental health was positively associated with self-employment. Our results highlight the usefulness of an inter-occupational labor perspective for understanding the mental health consequences of being in sex work compared to hairstyling. Full article
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13 pages, 263 KiB  
Article
Information and Communication Technologies in Commercial Sex Work: A Double-Edged Sword for Occupational Health and Safety
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(1), 23; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10010023 - 15 Jan 2021
Cited by 7 | Viewed by 3687
Abstract
Over the previous decade, there has been a notable shift within sex work marketplaces, with many aspects of the work now facilitated via the internet. Many providers and clients are also no longer engaging in in-person negotiations, opting instead for communications via technological [...] Read more.
Over the previous decade, there has been a notable shift within sex work marketplaces, with many aspects of the work now facilitated via the internet. Many providers and clients are also no longer engaging in in-person negotiations, opting instead for communications via technological means, such as through mobile phones, email, and the internet. By analysing the qualitative interviews of indoor-based providers, clients, and agency managers, this paper addresses the occupational health and safety concerns that indoor sex workers experience in the digital age, as well as how technology use can both support and hinder their capacity to promote their health and safety. Using thematic analysis, we arrived at three salient and nuanced themes that pertain to the intersection of sex work, technology use, and occupational health and safety: screening; confidentiality, privacy, and disclosure; and malice. As socio-political context can affect the occupational health and safety concerns that providers experience, as well as their capacity to prevent or mitigate these concerns, we highlight our findings in light of prevailing societal stigma and a lack of legal recognition and protections for sex work in Canada. Full article
15 pages, 307 KiB  
Article
Sex Workers’ Access to Police Assistance in Safety Emergencies and Means of Escape from Situations of Violence and Confinement under an “End Demand” Criminalization Model: A Five City Study in Canada
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(1), 13; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10010013 - 07 Jan 2021
Cited by 22 | Viewed by 8838
Abstract
There is limited available evidence on sex workers (SW) ability to access police protection or means of escaping situations of violence and confinement under an “end demand” criminalization model. Of 200 SW in five cities in Canada, 62 (31.0%) reported being unable to [...] Read more.
There is limited available evidence on sex workers (SW) ability to access police protection or means of escaping situations of violence and confinement under an “end demand” criminalization model. Of 200 SW in five cities in Canada, 62 (31.0%) reported being unable to call 911 if they or another SW were in a safety emergency due to fear of police detection (of themselves, their colleagues or their management). In multivariate logistic regression, police harassment–linked to social and racial profiling in the past 12 months (being carded or asked for ID documents, followed by police or detained without arrest) (Adjusted Odd Ratio (AOR): 5.225, 95% Confidence Interval (CI): 2.199–12.417), being Indigenous (AOR: 2.078, 95% CI: 0.849–5.084) or being in Ottawa (AOR: 2.317, 95% CI: 0.865–6.209) were associated with higher odds of being unable to call 911, while older age was associated with lower odds (AOR: 0.941 per year older, 95% CI: 0.901–0.982). In descriptive statistics, of 115 SW who had experienced violence or confinement at work in the past 12 months, 19 (16.52%) reported the incident to police. Other sex workers with shared expenses were the most commonly reported group to have assisted sex workers to escape situations of violence or confinement in the past 12 months (n = 13, 35.14%). One of the least commonly reported groups to have assisted sex workers to escape situations of violence or confinement in the past 12 months were police (n = 2, 5.41%). The findings of this study illustrate how the current “end demand” criminalization framework compromises sex workers’ access to assistance in safety emergencies. Full article
14 pages, 250 KiB  
Article
Money, Agency, and Self-Care among Cisgender and Trans People in Sex Work
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(1), 6; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10010006 - 29 Dec 2020
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 6193
Abstract
Many qualitative studies about the exchange of sex for money, drugs, and less tangible outcomes (i.e., social status) contend that this activity contributes to high levels of internalized stigma among people in sex work. The cis (n = 33) and trans people (n [...] Read more.
Many qualitative studies about the exchange of sex for money, drugs, and less tangible outcomes (i.e., social status) contend that this activity contributes to high levels of internalized stigma among people in sex work. The cis (n = 33) and trans people (n = 5) who participated in our project about health, violence, and social services acknowledged the stigma associated with sex work but were not governed by the dominant discourse about its moral stain. They shared nuanced insights about the relationship between sex work and self-respect as people who use their earnings to mitigate the struggles of poverty and ongoing drug use, and care for themselves more broadly. This study sheds new light on the ways that cis and trans people negotiate issues of money, agency, and self-care, contributing to the literature on consensual sex work that examines different aspects of stigma, safety, and health with a nuanced, non-binary gender analysis. Full article
15 pages, 305 KiB  
Article
Brothels as Sites of Third-Party Exploitation? Decriminalisation and Sex Workers’ Employment Rights
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(1), 3; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10010003 - 24 Dec 2020
Cited by 8 | Viewed by 5775
Abstract
Decriminalisation is arguably essential to protecting the human rights of sex workers. Nonetheless, there are suggestions that decriminalisation has less influence on sex workers’ experiences of working than many assume. This paper explores management practices in brothels in the context of decriminalisation in [...] Read more.
Decriminalisation is arguably essential to protecting the human rights of sex workers. Nonetheless, there are suggestions that decriminalisation has less influence on sex workers’ experiences of working than many assume. This paper explores management practices in brothels in the context of decriminalisation in New Zealand, focusing on sex workers’ employment status, managerial control and agency. We interviewed 14 brothel operators and 17 brothel-based sex workers in this study. The findings suggest that there remain challenges for sex workers in that brothel operators treated them as employees rather than independent contractors. Brothel operators retained control over shift times and pricing of services, and working conditions were unclear. Most sex workers understood their rights, but when operators impinged on their rights, it was often more expedient to move place of work than make an official complaint. However, decriminalisation did have a meaningful impact on the way sex workers negotiated potentially exploitative dimensions of brothel-based work. Decriminalisation has provided the context where it is possible for sex workers to experience safer and more supportive work environments than they otherwise might, where they can (and sometimes do) contest managerial control. Full article
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