elrond

Sociologist Julia O

19 posts in this topic

We use the research of Julia when we argue with the figures on sex trafficking. I read this blog on why men buy sex. http://worldofsexy.blogspot.com/2008/12/why-do-men-buy-sex.html

Here is a quote from Julia which I find a little disturbing. I hope it is quoted out of context or is there to describe one type of man, because I don't recognise myself in this description, or the prostitutes I visit.

Other researchers disagree that prostitutes serve as a balm for the woes of essentially normal men. Sociologist Julia O'Connell Davidson of the University of Nottingham in England characterizes johns as necrophiliacs who commit their acts on socially "dead" women. These are men, she says, whose sexual desire is switched on by not having to care about the prostitute as a human being

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We use the research of Julia when we argue with the figures on sex trafficking. I read this blog on why men buy sex. http://worldofsexy.blogspot.com/2008/12/why-do-men-buy-sex.html

Here is a quote from Julia which I find a little disturbing. I hope it is quoted out of context or is there to describe one type of man, because I don't recognise myself in this description, or the prostitutes I visit.

Other researchers disagree that prostitutes serve as a balm for the woes of essentially normal men. Sociologist Julia O'Connell Davidson of the University of Nottingham in England characterizes johns as necrophiliacs who commit their acts on socially "dead" women. These are men, she says, whose sexual desire is switched on by not having to care about the prostitute as a human being

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A woman's powerlessness? I'll remember that next time I'm in a dungeon getting the hell spanked out of me by a woman! :rolleyes::);)

I feel that Escorts are some of the most empowered business women I've ever had the fortune to come across.

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a non pimped independent call-girl is the epitome of a liberated woman as she exploits men in the workplace

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Here is a quote from Julia which I find a little disturbing. I hope it is quoted out of context..."What turns the john on is the woman's powerlessness," O'Connell Davidson concludes. Sex with a prostitute, she says, is more about seeking revenge on women or exerting control over them than about a quest for intimacy and romance.

Hmmm. The sentence in quotes may be a quote but, as you suggest, it may well be out-of-context. As for the rest, where are the blogger's references?

Anyone can make up this kind of vague attribution and, as a blogger, there isn't much need to justify what you say.

Did you know, for example, that Sigmund Freud proved that 84.73% of all left-handed prostitutes are Martians? :rolleyes:

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We use the research of Julia when we argue with the figures on sex trafficking. I read this blog on why men buy sex. http://worldofsexy.blogspot.com/2008/12/why-do-men-buy-sex.html

Here is a quote from Julia which I find a little disturbing. I hope it is quoted out of context or is there to describe one type of man, because I don't recognise myself in this description, or the prostitutes I visit.

Other researchers disagree that prostitutes serve as a balm for the woes of essentially normal men. Sociologist Julia O’Connell Davidson of the University of Nottingham in England characterizes johns as necrophiliacs who commit their acts on socially “dead” women. These are men, she says, whose sexual desire is switched on by not having to care about the prostitute as a human being—the opposite of the intimacy hypothesis.

“What turns the john on is the woman’s powerlessness,” O’Connell Davidson concludes. Sex with a prostitute, she says, is more about seeking revenge on women or exerting control over them than about a quest for intimacy and romance.

It doesn't apply to the vast majority of men I, or I suspect most escorts, meet in this job but there are posts made on this board which suggest that this type of client does exist.

They wont understand the concept of a connection, they wont understand why a gent may like to have a natter over a drink during their appointment and they wont understand why anyone would like/need more than half an hour with a girl or actually have an interest in how her personal life is going (fine line that one).

Many escorts are empowered and in control and so attract the sort of gent who appreciates that, and not the sort of client as above described.

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This thread aroused my interest, so I wrote to Julia O'Connell Davidson to ask about the quote and its context. My message and her reply are below.

My message:

Dear Professor O'Connell Davidson

I've recently seen an article in the online version of Scientific American that quotes you:

'Sociologist Julia O'Connell Davidson of the University of Nottingham in England characterizes johns as necrophiliacs who commit their acts on socially "dead" women. These are men, she says, whose sexual desire is switched on by not having to care about the prostitute as a human being

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I don't think this report has been posted here in its entirety before?

good reading...

University of Nottingham, 2009

A Question of Consent? Sexual Slavery and Sex Work in the UK

Julia O'Connell Davidson

It is very clear from the way in which ministers present these proposals for reforming the prostitution regime in the UK that they consider themselves to be adopting a progressive, feminist and rights-based approach to the issue. And yet if reference to 'sex trafficking' and the vulnerability of female prostitutes were removed from policy documents and discussion, the approach

favoured by the UK Government would actually look like a fairly traditional policy of prohibition, one that would find favour with those who object to prostitution on religious grounds and/or view it as a form of sexual and social

deviance that causes public nuisance.

Indeed, with its moral authoritarian stance on sex buying, its suggestion that police should 'disrupt' the market for indoor prostitution, and that street sex workers should be subject to compulsory 'rehabilitation', the proposed strategy on prostitution could be described as more repressive and punitive than the regime it is designed to replace - unless, of course, politicians are right to describe prostitution in the UK today as a form of modern slavery. Are they?

This paper explores the gap between rhetoric and reality in relation to rights violations in the UK sex sector, and considers the implications for policy and for theoretical and political debate on prostitution.

A Question of Consent? Sexual Slavery and Sex Work in the UK

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I

A Question of Consent? Sexual Slavery and Sex Work in the UK

Your link knocks my internet connection out. Anyone else having problems?

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Your link knocks my internet connection out. Anyone else having problems?

Opens OK here (FireFox on Mac) - opens a .pdf file.

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Works fine with IE8 as well, anyway here it is:

A Question of Consent? Sexual Slavery and Sex Work in the UK

Abstract

In recent years, UK policy on prostitution has been greatly influenced by

feminist abolitionist thought in which female prostitution is imagined as sexual

slavery, and the overwhelming majority of female prostitutes are said to be

routinely subject to the most appalling violence by clients, ‘traffickers’ and

pimps. This is a discourse in which the complex and overlapping continuums

of unfreedom and exploitation that can accompany prostitution are reduced to

one crude image of brute force and bodily confinement being used to dominate

helpless, passive victims. Drawing on data from research on the market for

migrant sex workers in London, this paper challenges claims that feminist

abolitionists advance about ‘sex trafficking’ and draws attention to some of the

problems that arise when the many and complex rights issues associated with

prostitution are reduced to questions of consent, and the metaphor of slavery

is indiscriminately used to describe those whose rights are violated.

Keywords

Sex work; slavery; prostitution; migration; feminist abolitionism

Author

Julia O’Connell Davidson is a Professor of Sociology in the School of Sociology

& Social Policy at the University of Nottingham. She is author of Prostitution,

Power and Freedom, (Polity, 1998) and Children in the Global Sex Trade,

(Polity, 2005) and also has a longstanding interest in labour process theory

and employment relations. Since 2000, she has been involved in research on

various different aspects of the exploitation of migrant labour, and has written

extensively on the definitional and political problems associated with the term

‘trafficking’. Julia currently teaches an undergraduate module titled ‘Human

Rights and the Global Sex Trade’, and an MA module titled ‘Human Rights and

Modern Slavery’. She has supervised doctoral research on a wide range of

topics, including migrant workers in a number of sectors; ‘trafficking’; race

and sexuality; and tourism, gender and the commercial sex sector.

Contact: julia.Oconnelldavidson@nottingham.ac.uk

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A Question of Consent? Sexual Slavery and Sex Work in the UK

Introduction

In liberal democratic societies, consent plays a central role in the conceptual

framework used to imagine and give meaning to social and economic

interaction and exchange, as well as political arrangements. It is used to

mark a moral boundary between democracy and dictatorship, between rightful

exchanges of property and theft, between employment and enslavement,

between sex and rape, between marriage and forced marriage, and so on.

The notion of consent has also been at the heart of Euro-American feminist

debate on prostitution, which for some decades has polarised around the

question of whether prostitution entails a violation of personhood that no

woman can ever genuinely consent to, and should therefore be understood as

a form of slavery – the position taken by feminist abolitionists (for example,

Barry, 1995; Jeffreys, 1998; Hughes, 2000; Raymond, 2001)– or whether the

body’s sexual capacities, like the bodily capacity to labour, constitute property

in the person that can be freely and consensually exchanged across a market

– the position taken by what might loosely be described as ‘sex work

feminists’ (for example, Alexander 1997; Bindman, 1997; Nagle, 1997;

Kempadoo and Doezema, 1998; Kempadoo, 1999; see also Millett, 1975).

Twenty years ago in the UK, few people other than feminist scholars

and activists were much interested in this sexual slavery versus sex work

debate, and certainly, it had little influence on policy-making. Following the

1957 Wolfenden Report on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution, which

‘aimed to apply a more rigid distinction between law and morality, claiming

that however immoral prostitution may be, it was not the law’s business’

(Kantola and Squires, 2004, p62), prostitution has been legally framed as

public nuisance issue in the UK, rather than as a form of sexual

violence/slavery or as a form of labour. Since the late 1990s, however groups

like Rape Crisis Federation, Campaign to End Rape, and the Women’s National

Commission, as well as individual academics and activists (for example,

Bindel, 2006) who take an abolitionist stance have lobbied successive New

Labour Governments to shift the policy emphasis towards problems of abuse

and exploitation, using the issue of ‘trafficking’ in particular to promote a

vision of prostitution as sexual slavery. Their efforts have been successful in

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the sense that since 2000, there has been a growing acceptance, both in the

media and amongst policy-makers, of the idea that female prostitution in the

UK largely involves women and girls who either lack the capacity to consent to

prostitution contracts, or who are being forced to prostitute by third parties

(see Kantola and Squires, 2004).

As a result, measures intended to address ‘trafficking’ were included in

the Sexual Offences Act 2003, and in 2004, the Government initiated a review

of prostitution law and policy with a Green Paper titled Paying the Price (Home

Office, 2004). This document laid great stress on what it terms the

‘vulnerability’ of those in prostitution, and the ‘coordinated prostitution

strategy’ presented in the White Paper that followed (Home Office, 2006) also

focused almost exclusively on those who are deemed to lack the capacity to

consent to prostitution contracts (by virtue of their youth, drug addiction, and

so on), and those who are physically forced into prostitution by a third party.

The policy responses suggested in the White Paper include measures to reduce

street prostitution by enforcing legislation against kerb-crawling and

compelling street sex workers to accept referral to services offering routes out

of sex work, and the ‘disruption’ of indoor sex markets by police (Brooks-

Gordon, 2006).

Alongside this, there have recently been calls for the criminalisation of

men who pay for sex. Three former ministers put forward amendments to the

criminal justice and immigration bill (debated in January 2008) that would give

local authorities the power to put men before the courts where they are

caught paying for sex in zones in town areas, and Harriet Harman, Labour's

deputy leader and minister for women, has publicly stated her support for a

total ban on buying sex (Woodward, 2007). Calls to criminalise clients are

invariably justified through reference to the allegedly huge and growing

problem of trafficking into sexual slavery. Former ministers have claimed that

there are 25,000 sex slaves in the UK today, while Harriet Harman has

defended her position by stating that ‘unless you tackle the demand side of

human trafficking, which is fuelling this trade, we will not be able to protect

women from it’ (Woodward, 2007).

It is very clear from the way in which ministers present these proposals

for reforming the prostitution regime in the UK that they consider themselves

to be adopting a progressive, feminist and rights-based approach to the

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issue.1 And yet if reference to ‘sex trafficking’ and the vulnerability of female

prostitutes were removed from policy documents and discussion, the approach

favoured by the UK Government would actually look like a fairly traditional

policy of prohibition, one that would find favour with those who object to

prostitution on religious grounds and/or view it as a form of sexual and social

deviance that causes public nuisance. Indeed, with its moral authoritarian

stance on sex buying, its suggestion that police should ‘disrupt’ the market for

indoor prostitution, and that street sex workers should be subject to

compulsory ‘rehabilitation’, the proposed strategy on prostitution could be

described as more repressive and punitive than the regime it is designed to

replace – unless, of course, politicians are right to describe prostitution in the

UK today as a form of modern slavery. Are they? This paper explores the gap

between rhetoric and reality in relation to rights violations in the UK sex

sector, and considers the implications for policy and for theoretical and

political debate on prostitution.

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‘Sex Slaves’ in the UK?

In November 2005, Gavril Dulghieru, a Moldovan living in London, was

convicted for conspiracy to facilitate illegal immigration, misuse of stolen credit

cards, forgery, money laundering and conspiracy to traffic for prostitution and

sexual exploitation. The women he exploited worked twenty hour shifts in

brothels in Park Lane, Mayfair and Soho, were fed only one meal a day, and

charged for the use of cutlery:

They were forced to have sex with up to 40 men a day for as little as £10 a

time to pay off £20,000 debts each - the price for which they were "bought".

They were charged rent, and subjected to fines if they refused anal or

unprotected sex or a client was not attracted to them. One 23-year-old

described how she had to pay £300 per day to live locked in a shared

basement and her captors threatened to kill her family. Like many trafficking

victims, the computer graduate was lured to Britain by promises of a

respectable, well-paid job in a hotel or restaurant but ended up in a brothel:

"I believed they would kill my family," she told the court. "I thought I hadn't a

way out of this situation. I didn't think I had a life in front of me. I wanted to

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escape but everything was locked. We were locked up all the time. I was told

I need to go with clients and I needed to do sex with them. I felt very bad.

The first time I wasn't able to talk afterwards." (Cowan, 2005).

This case, along with others like it, illustrates the fact that the sex sector in

the UK is a site in which people can be subject to very serious forms of

exploitation and abuse. It also conforms closely to popular understandings of

‘sex trafficking’ as ‘modern slavery’, and when such cases come to light, antitrafficking

campaigners are quick to assert that they represent just ‘the tip’ of

a vast ‘iceberg’ (Weaver, 2007; Monzini, 2005). One often cited piece of

research supporting this belief is a study of the London sex market conducted

by the Poppy Project. The Poppy Project, which enjoys support from the British

Home Office, and whose workers adopt a feminist abolitionist stance on

prostitution, exists to provide accommodation and support services for ‘victims

of trafficking’ in the UK. It also ‘has a remit to research and develop services

to assist women to exit prostitution and escape trafficking’ (Dickson, 2004,

p5). The study it published in 2004, Sex in the City, set out ‘to map where

sex is being sold in London… gathering information from a range of sources in

order to produce a ‘snapshot’ of London’s sex industry’ (Dickson, 2004, p5). A

telephone survey of indoor prostitution establishments and escort agencies in

London was conducted, the findings from which were then set against

quotations from websites where clients ‘chat’ about sex workers, anecdotal

evidence from sexual health outreach projects, and extracts from individual

cases of ‘trafficked’ women, in order to construct a picture of off-street

prostitution in the city. The report’s stated aim was to focus attention on:

a simple truth: that women are selling sex, and men are buying sex, all

over London. Inevitably, many of these women will have been trafficked

into the United Kingdom for the express purpose of their sexual exploitation

profiting traffickers, pimps and those owning establishments where sex is

sold (p5-6).

Though the author acknowledges that she is unable to ‘gage exact figures of

trafficked women’ on the basis of the methods employed by the research, she

nonetheless confidently claims that ‘more women, at various stages of the

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trafficking process, are working in London’s sex industry than has previously

been estimated’ (p10). Her confidence seemingly derives from the elision of

‘trafficked’ and ‘migrant’ women working in prostitution – thus, her finding

that around 80% of the women working in the indoor prostitution

establishments and escort agencies they surveyed were described as migrants

is treated as evidence that ‘sex trafficking’ is a huge and growing problem.

The same claims have subsequently been widely publicised through media

coverage, and journalists and Government ministers often refer to a police

operation conducted in 2006, Operation Pentameter, to further bolster them.

This operation involved 515 raids on indoor prostitution establishments in the

UK and Ireland over a four month period, leading to 232 arrests and what is

described as ‘the rescue’ of 84 women and girls ‘believed to have been

trafficked’, around half of whom were from Eastern Europe, the remainder

from South East Asia, Africa, and Latin America (Pentameter, 2006).

A special report on prostitution in Britain in The Observer in April, 2006,

provides a good example of the mainstreaming of the belief that it is the norm

for women in prostitution in the UK to be subjected to the kind of experience

that Gavril Dulghieru subjected the 23 year old to in the case described above.

Headlined ‘Raped, beaten and helpless: UK’s sex slaves’, the article asserts

that:

Human trafficking for prostitution is one of the UK’s fastest growing

industries… in 2000, Home Office research estimated that up to 1,400

women had been trafficked into the country. Now, according to police and

lawyers, up to 80 per cent of ‘off street’ prostitution – in massage parlours,

peep shows and brothels – in places such as Glasgow and London, involve

women from Eastern Europe and the Baltic states’ (Roberts, 2006).

If it were true that some 80 percent of female prostitution in London and

other British cities involved the kind of violence and force that was used in the

Dulghieru case, in other words, that 8 out of every 10 female prostitutes are

locked in buildings and compelled by violence or its threat to service clients,

then perhaps the Government’s spoken intention of disrupting indoor sex

markets and police operations like Pentameter could be considered to

represent an important first step in addressing the rights violations that take

8

place in the country’s sex sector. But is it really true that the vast majority of

female prostitutes in Britain today are subject to the direct and violent control

of ‘pimps’ or ‘traffickers’?

The Poppy Project report, which mixes general and unsubstantiated claims

about ‘trafficking’ and examples of individual cases of violence and exploitation

with statements about the numbers of migrant sex workers mapped through

their telephone survey,2 implies that this is the case. However, data from the

telephone survey they conducted cannot actually speak to questions about

‘trafficking’ or forced labour in London’s indoor sex market, since when their

researchers telephoned indoor prostitution establishments, they asked only

about ‘the location of each place, the numbers of women available, and their

nationalities/ethnicities’ (Dickson, 2004, p8).3 At the time the Poppy Project

report was published, Bridget Anderson and I were working on Economic and

Social Research Council funded research on the markets for migrant domestic

and sex workers in the UK and Spain, the UK leg of which included interviews

with men who buy sex and with individuals who owned or managed indoor

prostitution establishments in London. We also conducted some interviews

with police and immigration officers involved in policing indoor prostitution in

London.

Although we recognised the very serious methodological limitations of

the Poppy Project research, we thought it would be worthwhile to replicate

their mapping exercise, albeit on a smaller scale, and ask some additional

questions about the services offered in each establishment and about prices.

Our aim was not to check the Poppy researchers’ claims about the size of the

prostitution market in London, or the number, age or nationality of people who

sell sex, since we do not believe that reliable data on such issues can be

generated by a telephone survey of this nature. However, we were interested

in the services offered and the prices quoted by receptionists, and whether

they differed between establishments where the workers were described as

British and establishments where workers were described as foreign.

We therefore asked a male researcher to search on internet and in free local

London newspapers for establishments in which heterosexual men can buy

commercial sexual services in London, then telephone the numbers provided

posing as a prospective client – in other words, we adopted the same methods

as those used by the Poppy researchers. However, in addition to asking about

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the location of the establishment and the number and nationalities of workers,

our researcher asked whether workers were willing to provide anal sex, oral

sex without a condom, and whether they were willing to kiss clients. He also

enquired about the prices charged for a 'full personal service' (penetrative

vaginal sex), and for anal sex.

The Poppy researchers contacted a much larger number of

establishments than we were able to (730 against the 148 different

establishments we managed to locate using the method outlined above).

However, our findings were very similar as regards the descriptions of the

nationalities working in indoor prostitution in London. Poppy researchers found

that 19 percent of the sex workers in establishments they contacted were

described as British; we found an almost identical percentage - 20 percent.4

Like the Poppy study, our survey also found that the remaining 80 percent

were described as coming from a wide variety of regions and countries, not

just from Eastern Europe and the Baltic States. But it is our findings with

regard to the services on offer that are relevant for the purposes of this paper.

A high percentage of establishments reported their workers to be willing to

kiss (73 percent) and more disturbingly given the health risks associated with

the practice (see Edwards and Carne, 1998; Khanxsi, 2007), 60 percent

reported that workers would be willing to provide oral sex without a condom.

Less than a third of establishments reported that workers would provide anal

sex, however, and in only a quarter of cases was our researcher told that anal

sex and oral sex without a condom and kissing would be available to him.

There was also a significant difference between prices quoted for anal and

vaginal sex. The mean price for a 'full personal service' across all

establishments contacted was £64, whereas the mean for anal sex was £97.

Again, information on services and prices gathered in this way comes

with a methodological health warning. Having myself worked as a receptionist

in a private brothel when undertaking ethnographic research on prostitution in

Britain (O'Connell Davidson, 1997), I know that prices quoted over the phone

are often significantly lower than those actually charged, and that

receptionists are sometimes expected to give the impression that more

services are on offer than is in fact the case. But I would nonetheless argue

that these findings represent a powerful challenge to the idea that 80 percent

10

of female prostitutes in London are held in what is stereotypically represented

as 'sex slavery'.

When women and girls are locked into buildings and forced to provide sexual

services to clients by violent third parties, they are not normally given a choice

as to which sexual services they provide (as evidenced in the Dulghieru case

and other similar cases, some of which are cited in the Poppy Report).5 Why,

after all, would a 'trafficker' or 'pimp' who exercised total and direct control

over a woman or child's prostitution force her to kiss clients and provide oral

sex without a condom, but allow her to refuse to provide anal sex when a

client requested it? Why would such an individual instruct receptionists to tell

prospective clients that anal sex is available, but not oral sex without a

condom; or that workers are willing to provide oral sex without a condom but

not to kiss clients?

The fact that in 69 percent of cases, our researcher, posing as a

prospective client and asking 'Does she do anal?' was told 'No', even though

anal is a significantly more expensive service, suggests that more sex workers

in indoor prostitution in London exercise more control over the details of their

working practices than many commentators believe. And the fact that

receptionists in three-quarters of the establishments surveyed told our

researcher that he would be refused at least one of the three services (anal

sex or oral sex without a condom or kissing) likewise challenges the

assumption that overwhelming physical force or its threat is being used to

subordinate most of London's female prostitutes to the will of a 'trafficker' or

'pimp'. We also cross-tabulated data on the services that workers were

reported to offer against that on their nationality as described by receptionists.

Because information provided by receptionists is not a reliable source of data

on the nationality of workers in indoor establishments in London, the results

must be treated with extreme caution. However, it is interesting to note that

our researcher was told that he would be refused one or more service in 75

percent of establishments where receptionists described workers as British,

but in 84 percent of the establishments where receptionists described workers

as coming from Eastern Europe or the Baltic States.6

In short, then, our telephone survey lends no support to the idea that

80 percent of women in indoor prostitution in London are under the close and

violent control of a 'trafficker'. Nor, in fact, is this idea supported by the

11

outcomes of Operation Pentameter, for the discovery of 84 victims of forced

labour during raids on 515 establishments does not tally with the estimate

that 80 percent of indoor sex workers are VoTs. Indeed, even if we assume

that each of the establishments raided employed just one worker (which is

almost certainly an underestimate), the outcome of these raids would indicate

that less than 17 percent of the sex workers discovered in indoor prostitution

conformed to police and immigration officers' understanding of the term

'trafficked person'. If we assume that an average of two workers were present

in each establishment that figure drops to around 8 percent.7 If the Poppy

researchers were correct to assume that between four and eight workers are

typically employed in each indoor prostitution establishment (Dickson, 2004,

p10), then just 1 to 2 percent of sex workers matched up to police and

immigration officers' vision of a victim of trafficking.

My aim in presenting these data is not to suggest that really only 25

percent or 8 percent or 2 percent of women in indoor prostitution are 'sex

slaves', as opposed to 80 percent or some other figure that has been plucked

out of the air by anti-trafficking campaigners.8 Instead, I want to draw

attention to some serious problems that arise when the many and complex

rights issues associated with prostitution are reduced to questions of consent,

and the metaphor of slavery is indiscriminately used to describe those whose

rights are violated. Because though I believe that only a minority of women

and girls in indoor prostitution in the UK are held captive and forced to

prostitute by means of close, violent control and threats against their lives or

those of their loved ones, I do not think it follows that the situation of all the

rest is unproblematic from a human or labour rights perspective.

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Consenting to Contracts that May Harm

It is without doubt true that there are women working in indoor prostitution

establishments in London who agree to have sex with clients because

someone has effectively kidnapped and imprisoned them, and is using violence

or its threat to force them to acquiesce to clients' requests for sexual services.

But even within a single form of prostitution in a single country, there is

immense diversity within prostitution in terms of its social organisation and

the power relations that surround it, as well as in terms of the factors that

precipitate individuals' participation in it (O'Connell Davidson, 1998, 2005).

12

Thus, it also without doubt true that at the other end of the continuum from

the Dulghieru case are individuals who make a positive choice to prostitute

partly to earn money, but also in order to gratify a personal or sexual interest

in the experience of prostitution (sometimes even because they actively wish

to claim 'sex worker' as a social identity), and who control every aspect of

their own prostitution. But between these two extremes there is a continuum

not merely in terms of the type and degree of compulsion that leads

individuals to consent to prostitute in the first place, but also in terms of the

type and degree of compulsion that encourages them to accept particular

working conditions and working practices once in prostitution.

Evidence that a high percentage of women working in indoor

prostitution in London are migrants cannot be taken as evidence that people

who own or run indoor prostitution establishments are actively recruiting

foreign workers or are in any way involved in facilitating or arranging the

migration of the migrant sex workers they employ. Indeed, our own interview

research with employers in London's sex sector (Anderson and O'Connell

Davidson, 2006a; O'Connell Davidson, 2006), as well as my earlier research

on indoor prostitution in the UK (O'Connell Davidson, 1998, see also Sanders,

2005) suggests that owners and managers in this sector do not normally need

to actively recruit workers (except perhaps when seeking to establish a new

business). Instead, they can rely on women - whether local or migrant -

approaching them (sometimes through a shared acquaintance, sometimes cold

calling by telephone or in person) and asking to be taken onto the books.

The fact that most workers approach employers and ask for work is not

a guarantee that they are acting on the basis of a positive wish to prostitute,

however. They could be acting under duress from a third party (someone who

arranged their migration, for example, or an abusive partner or drug dealer);

and/or they could be under strong pressure to quickly repay large debts (such

as those incurred during the process of migration, or those owed to a 'loan

shark'); and/or they may be struggling to support a drug habit, and/or to

support dependants and to meet the very high cost of living, and prostitution

may represent the only or the most lucrative earning opportunity available to

them. Indeed, there is a good deal of research that suggests these are the

kind of pressures that encourage women to consent to work in the more

13

exploitative forms of prostitution (for example, O'Connell Davidson, 1998;

Phoenix, 1999; Andrijasevic, 2003; Day and Ward, 2004; Agustin, 2007).

Because prostitution is not legally recognised as an employment sector

in the UK, third party organisers of prostitution are free to construct the sale

of sex as something other than 'work'. Those who own and run indoor

prostitution establishments rarely acknowledge that they enter into an

employment relation with sex workers. Most prefer instead to construct the

relationship as a mutually convenient arrangement between entrepreneurs

whereby the prostitute is said to rent facilities from the third party, and then

trade sex on a self-employed basis. In reality, however, the third party

normally exercises a great deal of control over the prostitute's work rate,

working practices, prices, and so on. The 'rent' (or 'shift fee') is in typically

demanded regardless as to the number of clients that the sex worker sees, so

that when business is slow, a sex worker can end up paying almost all her

earnings to the 'house', or indeed, failing to cover the shift fee and actually

owing money to the 'house'.

This, in combination with the fact that the third party often sets the

prices for services and imposes other 'house rules', can operate as a strong

financial pressure on sex workers to consent to engage in acts that they might

otherwise refuse, and that potentially carry serious health risks, such as anal

sex or oral sex without a condom, in order to make up the shift fee. The

combination of certain 'house rules' and exorbitant shift fees can also operate

as a strong pressure on workers to accept more clients in a day than they

would otherwise choose to service. Indeed, in the most extreme cases, the

indirect employment relation can be organised in such a way as to pressure

women to agree to have sex with very large numbers of clients each day for

little or no pay, just as in the Dulghieru case (see O'Connell Davidson, 2006).

In short, the freedom of women who voluntarily work in indoor

establishments can be constrained in a number of different ways, and some of

these constraints on freedom encourage workers to consent to service a very

high volume of clients daily, as well as to contracts that may harm them. And

yet they do not necessarily bear any resemblance to the 'sex slaves' depicted

in campaigning materials produced by feminist abolitionist groups, which

typically include testimony from women and girls who have been violently

beaten and raped by pimps, and/or tortured by sadistic clients, lists of physical

14

illnesses and psychological conditions suffered by women in prostitution,

images of trafficked women as puppet-like objects or slabs of meat (Aradau,

2004), or even, in Poppy Project marketing materials, as decapitated heads

packaged as sex toys.

Now although feminist abolitionists exploit the most sensational cases

and images for lobbying purposes, they actually believe that it is impossible

for any woman to consent to sell sexual services, so that for them, women

who agree to prostitute in indoor prostitution establishments are just as much

'sex slaves' as women who are kidnapped, imprisoned and physically forced to

prostitute. But police, immigration officers, and government officials tend to

be rather more selective in their view of who is and is not a 'sex slave'.

Certainly, to stand any chance of being identified and assisted as a VoT by the

authorities in most countries, a migrant woman or girl working in the sex trade

needs to demonstrate first that she did not originally consent to work in

prostitution, and second that she has undergone great physical suffering (see

Chapkis, 2005; Pearson, 2002; Doezema, 1999 and 2002; Harrington, 2005).

And even in the UK, where the law does not rule out the possibility that a

woman could have agreed to migrate into sex work but subsequently found

herself exploited and unable to escape her situation, the status of VoT is by no

means automatically given to those who have been subject to the abuses

listed as constitutive of 'trafficking' in the United Nations Trafficking Protocol

(2000).

Our interviews with police and immigration officers in the UK suggest that

upon contact with the authorities, women need to immediately report a very

particular set of experiences in order to stand any chance of being accepted

and assisted as a VoT. For instance, asked how she could tell if someone

picked up during a raid on a massage parlour was or was not a VoT, an

immigration officer answered that during their initial interview (which is

usually very brief and held in an interview room in a police station), women

are questioned about their routing on the way to the UK, whether they knew

what kind of work they would be undertaking, whether they had worked in the

sex trade back home, and whether an agent was involved in their migration

into sex work in UK. And:

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If they say that they were brought here against their will, or they were

sold from prostitution in one country on to prostitution in another, or that

they're not allowed to leave the building or that they aren't given food,

that would obviously tell you they were trafficked.

Likewise, an officer from the Metropolitan Police vice unit explained to me that

in his experience, the majority of migrant sex workers in indoor forms of

prostitution in London are economically exploited by the owners of such

establishments; many have been deceived about earnings and working conditions;

and most are working to pay off debts incurred in migration. But, he continued,

very few are forced and controlled through means of physical violence or its threat,

and it is only rarely that indoor sex establishments are actually run by the same

person or people who have recruited the women and/or arranged their entry into

the country. In his view, it follows that very few are victims of 'trafficking'.

The fact that police and immigration officers in the UK are looking for a very

specific constellation of abuses, namely one involving conspiracy to facilitate illegal

immigration, plus prostitution forced by means of physical violence or its threat,

plus false imprisonment, is further demonstrated by events surrounding a recent

raid on a massage parlour in Birmingham. In October 2005, police executed a

human trafficking warrant in a massage parlour (named Cuddles) in order to

rescue a number of foreign nationals who were believed to be subject to forced

prostitution therein. Police and immigration officers removed nineteen women

from the parlour. Those who could prove that they were legally present in the UK

(most of whom were Lithuanian, and so EU citizens) were then released. The

conditions under which they were working in Cuddles were not investigated

further. The six who could not prove they were legally present in the country were

detained and asked, in interviews conducted by male officers and lasting in some

cases a mere 17 minutes, how they had travelled to the UK, and how they came to

be working in Cuddles. On the basis of their answers, the officers involved decided

that they were not VoTs, and two days later, they were transferred to an

immigration detention centre to await 'removal' (O'Connell Davidson, 2006, pp14-

16; see also Adams, 2003).9

In practice, then, physical confinement and violence or its threat is the only

form of compulsion that is recognised as constraining the freedom of women in

prostitution in the UK. This draws attention to the very serious definitional

16

problems associated with the term 'trafficking' (see Anderson and O'Connell

Davidson, 2006b). It also highlights what I would argue is the huge disservice

done to those working in the most exploitative and risky forms of prostitution by

feminist abolitionists' abstract and rhetorical use of the term 'slavery'.

Slavery, Work, Coercion and Consent

The idea that 'free wage labour' and slavery historically existed as entirely distinct

and oppositional categories is increasingly challenged by slavery scholars and

scholars of labour history (Steinfeld, 1991, 2001; Craven and Hay, 1994; Lott,

1998; Geary, 2004; Brace, 2004). They point out that elements of freedom

historically existed within the juridical category of slavery that sometimes matched

the freedoms enjoyed by non-slaves, and also that very real legal restraints have

historically been placed on the freedoms of formally 'free' workers. Certainly, it

has never been possible to mark a clean boundary between free and coerced

labour through reference to notions of choice and consent:

When we speak about most forms of labor compulsion, we are talking about

situations in which the compelled party is offered a choice between

disagreeable alternatives and chooses the lesser evil. [This] type of

compulsion is present in both slavery and modern free wage labour. In

slavery, for example, labor is not normally elicited by directly imparting

motion to a slave's limbs through overpowering physical force. It is

compelled by forcing slaves to choose between very unpleasant alternatives,

such as death, torture, and endless confinement, on the one hand, or backbreaking

physical labor on the other. The labor of free wage workers is

normally elicited by offering workers a choice, for example, between life on an

inadequate welfare stipend or, in the extreme, starvation, on the one hand,

and performing more or less unpleasant work for wages on the other. In the

cases of both the slave and the free wage worker, the parties may be said to

have been coerced into performing the labor or to have freely chosen the

lesser evil (Steinfeld, 2001, pp14-15).

Similarly, the woman who services large numbers of clients because she is

locked into a building and threatened with violence and the woman who services

large numbers of clients because she has agreed to pay an exorbitant shift fee to

17

an indoor prostitution establishment owner could both be described as coerced by

the spectre of what would happen if they failed to service large numbers of clients;

or they could be described as having chosen to service large numbers of clients

daily in preference to suffering those consequences. Steinfeld continues:

the choices presented in slavery were normally vastly harsher than the

choices presented in free wage labor, so we may rightly say that the degree

of coercion in one form is generally vastly greater than in the other, but there

are no logical grounds for saying that the performance of labor in one case is

coerced and in the other it is voluntary. As a matter of logic we have to say

either that both are involuntary in different degrees or that both involve the

free choice of a less evil (2001, p15).

Although free and unfree labour are popularly imagined as clearly separable,

the former undertaken voluntarily and the latter involuntarily performed, in reality

the line between the two is a matter of convention in liberal democratic societies -

it is drawn through reference to 'a judgement about what kinds of coercive

pressures are legitimate and illegitimate in labor relations' (2001, p16). This

judgement has varied historically (seventeenth century English law locked most

workers into lengthy relationships with their masters on pain of imprisonment

should they attempt to leave, for instance, Steinfeld, 1991), but crucially for the

purposes of this paper, today it is generally informed by a belief that economic

pressures are somehow less coercive, and so more legitimate, than physical force

or imprisonment. Thus, just as politicians in Europe make a distinction between

'economic migrants' and 'genuine' asylum seekers, so also we find that dull

economic compulsion does not feature in the list of forces in the UN Trafficking

Protocol (2000) that are deemed to nullify a person's consent to exploitation.

One reading of these arguments in relation to prostitution would lead to the

conclusion that all prostitution is forced, that even those women who apparently

choose to sell sex are in fact present in prostitution because they are 'vulnerable to

the only means of economic existence available to them because they are women,

and because they are women they are homeless, and poor' (Barry, 1995, p196),

and that governments ought thus to do everything in their power to suppress the

market for prostitution. This is the position adopted by feminist abolitionists in the

18

UK, and as noted above, they have exerted a strong influence on policy-making

here.

But I would argue for a different reading, one that starts from an

understanding of those who trade sex as active, purposive actors who, like other

social actors, always make choices, though rarely between options that are of their

own choosing. This allows us to recognise that coercive pressures operate along a

continuum, such that at one pole, people are faced with desperately bleak and

violent alternatives (including even that between death or agreeing to a form of

prostitution within which they exercise no control over the details of the interaction

with clients), while at the other end of the continuum, the alternatives can hardly

be described as calamitous (for example, the choice between earning a great deal

of money as a dominatrix or earning a comfortable income as an academic or an

estate agent). Between the two poles lies a spectrum of either more or less dismal

options.

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As well as allowing us to recognise all those who prostitute as subjects

and agents (rather than regarding them as objects and eternal victims), this

approach focuses attention on questions about who or what determines the

'background conditions that constitute the options available to individuals'

(Steinfeld, 2001, p22). Why are some women in the UK today faced with such

dire alternatives? The Home Office's answer to this question appears to be:

because there are criminals (traffickers, pimps, drug dealers) who force them

into a modern form of slavery, a phenomenon that is in turn driven by men's

demand for commercial sex. But this is to overlook the fact that 'Law

pervasively conditions the universe of possibilities that determine the degree

of economic compulsion individuals confront in all market societies', societies

where, indeed, 'an extensive set of background legal rules establishes to a

significant degree the real alternatives working people have available, as they

decide whether to enter or to remain at a job' (Steinfeld, 2001, p23-4).

In the UK, the welfare and the immigration regimes in particular serve

to severely limit the alternatives open to poor women (especially lone parents)

and to undocumented migrants and migrants whose immigration status denies

them the right to enter paid work. Likewise, inadequately resourced support

services for drug users, the homeless, victims of domestic violence and so on

restrict the real options open to those who are affected by such problems. In

19

this context, there are people for whom even highly exploitative and risky

forms of prostitution will appear as a lesser evil than their alternatives.

Furthermore, once individuals have chosen prostitution in preference to

other options available to them, the Government's current and proposed

strategy does nothing to address the forms or degree of compulsion that can

be brought to bear upon them within prostitution. Because prostitution is not

recognised and regulated as a form of work, employers in the sex sector are

not constrained by the kind of rules that are applied to employment relations

in other sectors, rules that shape the power relations between employers and

workers and establish certain minimum standards regarding pay, working

conditions, health and safety and so on. Indeed, since the only protection that

a sex worker can expect from the British state (and even this is in theory

much more than in practice) is to be 'rescued' from an employer who locks

them into a building, and/or rapes or beats them or threatens to kill their

family, we could say that this is the minimum standard. Providing employers

kindly refrain from physical violence and/or confinement, they have pretty

much carte blanche to subject their indirect employees to whatever other

coercive pressures they please.

In feminist abolitionist discourse, female prostitution is always forced, either in

the sense that female prostitutes are 'victims of trafficking' or lack the

capacity to consent to prostitution contracts, or in the sense that patriarchal

power structures leave them with no alternative but to prostitute.

Furthermore, the overwhelming majority are said to be routinely subject to

the most appalling violence by clients and pimps.10 In this way, the complex

and overlapping continuums of unfreedom and exploitation that can

accompany prostitution are reduced to one crude image of brute force and

bodily confinement being used to dominate helpless, choiceless, passive

victims. In the UK, feminist abolitionists appear to have succeeded in winning

ministers and Home Office officials over to a view of prostitution as peopled

almost entirely by 'sex slaves', children, and desperate, despairing drug

addicts. But they have not converted mainstream politicians and policymakers

to the belief that female prostitution is by definition forced, or that

economic pressures can exert a degree of compulsion commensurate with that

exerted by physical violence and bodily confinement.

20

For policy-makers and for those charged with enforcing policy, the

orthodox liberal distinction between coercion and consent remains real and

important, and it is only those women and girls who conform to the stereotype

of helpless, choiceless, non-consenting, passive victim that are deemed

worthy of protection and assistance. Those who appear to exercise agency, to

make choices, to consent to work in prostitution are not imagined as 'innocent'

and 'deserving' victims and can therefore be summarily deported if they are

irregular migrants or their immigration status makes it illegal for them to earn

from prostitution. And if Clause 105 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration

Bill, 2008, comes into law, all street sex workers who are arrested for loitering

or soliciting and who fail to comply with compulsory 'rehabilitation'

requirements (in other words, those who do not play the part of a victim

desperate for help to escape the horror of prostitution) will be summonsed

back to court and subject to a possible 72 hours imprisonment (Safety First,

2008).

I do not wish to suggest that there is one simple or straightforward policy

solution that would at a stroke offer rights and protections to those currently

working in the most exploitative forms of prostitution. Given that migrant workers

are known to be at risk of often quite extreme forms of abuse and exploitation in

employment sectors of the UK that are in theory legal and regulated (see Anderson

and Rogaly, 2005), it is clear that neither decriminalisation nor regulation could

guarantee that no-one in prostitution is ever forced to choose between two almost

equally abysmal alternatives. And certainly, neither decriminalisation nor

regulation would do anything to address the background conditions that turn

prostitution into the least-worst option for many poor women and irregular

migrants. However, I do believe that decriminalisation and a serious attempt to

identify the minimum standards that should be applied to sex work, and to agree

on what constitutes an unacceptable level of 'exploitation' within prostitution (selfexploitation

as well as by an employer), and on appropriate measures to enforce

minimum standards, represent a necessary first step towards securing rights and

protections for those who do decide that sex work is the best of a poor bunch of

options.

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I found it a very measured thoughtful paper.

The ritual demolition of the Big Brothel Report by pointing out that slaves don't normally get a say about whether they are to be buggered or not.

Picks up on the Pentameter stats and goes for a guess of 1/2%- not far from the general feeling on here.

Makes a very good point that the scare stats about widespread slavery do a disservice to some girls who are subject to significant coercion but, because they don't meet that strict set of 'slave' criteria, don't get VoT status with police.

The end is the really interesting bit. She makes the point that coercion is a continuum with 'degrees of'. Goes on to say that economic pressures result in some girls choosing this life as a least-worst option, but that those pressures relate to UK Welfare and Immigration regimes. Furthermore that the poor working conditions, within prostitution, that some of these girls endure are related to the lack of recognition, and therefore regulation, of the industry.

She ends with a plea for decriminalisation and enforcement of minimum standards. Hard to argue with that.

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