Embodied cosmopolitanisms: the subjective mobility of migrants working in the global sex industry

Anti-trafficking rhetoric and policies emphasise the extent of exploitation and coercion of female migrant sex workers and obfuscate the shared ambivalences and contradictions experienced by migrant female sex workers and their male agents and partners. By engaging in the global sex industry, both young men and women negotiate their aspiration to cosmopolitan late modern lifestyles against the prevalence of essentialist patriarchal gender values and sexual mores at home. In the process, established gender normativities, legitimising women's subjection to men, are both reproduced and challenged.

The evidence informing this article shows that a minority of women are coerced into the sex industry. There is a direct link between the adherence to essentialist gender/sexual roles and the recourse to violence and exploitation, because migrants' prolonged involvement in the sex industry coincides with the adherence to more cosmopolitan gender/sexual roles, translating into less authoritarian and violent discourses and practices. Hegemonic understandings of migrants' involvement in the global sex industry in terms of ‘trafficking’ erase these important dynamics and dimensions, which underpin intricate feelings and experiences of advantage, disadvantage and exploitation. By failing to engage with the meanings that migrants working in the sex industry ascribe to their working and personal lives, the (anti)trafficking logic of ‘humanitarian intervention’ enforces forms of solidarity and support that appeal to the minority and harm the majority of the people they are supposed to ‘rescue’

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Mai N