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Perceptions of “Victim Hood” of Sex Workers (Part 2) February 19, 2010

Posted by Athiqah Nur Alami in Gender, Women.
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Self-Perceived Perspectives as Victims

The previous section has implicitly discussed the different characteristics of sex workers. From there, this section elaborates the diversity perspectives of sex workers in seeing themselves as victims as a balance on how they are perceived by the outsiders. The perception of being victims is mainly influenced by the way sex workers enter the sex industry which are voluntary and involuntary, and the way they perceive themselves in the industry.

Firstly, sex workers who enter the industry voluntarily tend to perceive themselves as free and independent people. They do not consider themselves as victims, yet, as workers. Laura Agustin argues that voluntary sex workers are pragmatic and future-oriented focus because they do not complain about the work being sexual per se, but of the need for a better and less exploitative working condition, particularly in responding the differential in pay.

As responsible people who make choice, they are actually aware of the dangers of the job and concern on their safety during working. For example, some escorts women in Canada felt that, in one hand, municipal licensing provided official recognition of escort work as an occupation and safety and security on the job. However, licensing does not always work in that way.

The second category is forced sex workers who are victims of luring or victims of trafficking. Nevertheless, the phenomenon of trafficking is much more complex and multi-faceted. Perhaps, the link between trafficking and the sex industry may not be as close as assumed.

In an examination of brothels and massage parlors in Thailand revealed that introductions by friends or “self-arranged” were the most important modes of entry in those sectors. Only less than 15 percent of those in brothels reported that they have been forced into the industry.

Also in a recent study of Vietnamese migrants in Cambodia who had been “trafficked” found that out of 100 women, only six had been tricked into sex work; the rest knew before they left Vietnam that they would be working in a brothel in Cambodia. These mean that the vast majority of “victims” are individuals making conscious choices to migrate in search of work.

To deal with victims and reduce the likelihood for victimization, they require assistance and protection. However, this mechanism often can not help much because some victims or survivors may never disclose to anyone their experiences of violence.

Assistance and Protection for Sex Workers

All sex workers need assistance and protection because they suffer a high incidence of sexual assault particularly in the course of practicing their occupation.

Unfortunately they particularly are likely not to report sexual assault, because, first, in the case of complaining of being raped, sex workers complains are not taken seriously by the police or in worst case they will be charged with prostitution offences or of be arrested on other grounds.

Second, in some countries evidentiary rules in common law jurisdiction limited the likelihood of a sexual assault prosecution where the complainant was a prostitute, had been a prostitute, was rumored to be a prostitute or was otherwise behaving ‘like a prostitute’.

Third, men as the main perpetrators of sexual assault were able to use the evidence of prostitution to defend themselves and to successfully undermine the credibility of the rape complainants and to avoid conviction.

Because of these reasons and the potential threats of sex violence, there are three levels of protection which exist among sex workers in the individual level and are developed by states in the national level and international level.

First, in order to protect themselves in their jobs, sex workers develop self-protection strategies. In her study in 1998 on female street sex workers in one of the city in England Teela Sanders found that they have established strategies of protection, such as applying the business contract with clients which is important to reduce risks on the street; building up regular clients to assess a degree of trustworthiness between them and clients; protecting each other and working together among street sex workers by looking out the other while they are giving a service in an alley or car.

Second, the governments of some EU countries that legalize prostitution such as the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy establish victim protection programs, such as a temporary residence permit. Although it is a good policy, it has problems in creating to support the interests of the prosecution rather than victims; abandoning the psychological and physical integrity of victim; providing less adequate compensation.

Third, in international level, unfortunately, there are no explicit and particular conventions on this issue. The issue of prostitution and sexual exploitation is only covered partly in the Trafficking Protocols. Although the Protocols is the outcome of the development of responses to the crime and has provided for the first time a definition of trafficking, it is not adequate to regulate protection on voluntary sex workers which do not always necessarily relate to trafficking.

As Sullivan argues that the Trafficking Protocols does not differentiate between trafficking and migration for sex work, and so it is likely to make life even more difficult for Third World women who are most likely to travel for sex work.

Moreover, Heredia claims that the Trafficking Protocol fails to resolve the relationship between prostitution and trafficking and not to have defined prostitution or sexual exploitation. The Trafficking Protocols has not stated in the definition of people trafficking that prostitution is an illegal activity, leaving enough room for domestic legislation to treat this matter as appropriate. It seems that the issue of trafficking in international realm remains a grey area and can not use a clear-cut approach.

All in all, the different understandings of sex workers as victims are being relative in perspective. Feminists, governments and sex workers are also at variance in this issue. The blurred separation between forced and voluntary sex workers asserts that both are victims and potential becoming victims. In one hand, their status as ‘victims’ and the risk to be victims make them deserve to obtain assistance and protection, primarily from governments and international regulation.


Agustin, Laura, 2006, “The Disappearing of a Migration Category: Migrants Who Sell Sex”, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 32/1 (2006).

Buckland, Benjamin S., 2008, “More than just Victims: The Truth about Human Trafficking”, Public Policy Research.

Heredia, Marta Iniguez de, 2008, “People Trafficking: Conceptual Issues with the United Nations Trafficking Protocol 2000”, Human Rights Rev 9.

Lewis, Jacqueline and Eleanor Maticka-Tyndale, 2000, “Licensing Sex Work: Public Policy and Women’s Lives”, Canadian Public Policy – Analyse de Politiques XXVI/4.

Outshoorn, Joyce, 2005, “Political Debates on Prostitution and Trafficking of Women”, Oxford University Journal.

Quadara, Antonia, 2008, “Sex Workers and Sexual Assault in Australia: Prevalence, Risk and Safety”, ACSSA Issue 8.

Sanders, Teela, 2001, “Female Street Sex Workers, Sexual Violence, and Protection Strategies”, Journal of Sexual Aggression 7/1.

Simic, Olivera, 2004, “Victims of Trafficking for Forced Prostitution: Protection Mechanisms and the Right to Remain in the Destination Countries”, Global Migration Perspective 2.

Skeldon, Ronald, 2000, “Trafficking: A Perspective from Asia”, International Migration, Special Issue 1.

Sullivan, Barbara, 2003, “Can a Prostitute be Raped? Sex Workers, Women and the Politics of Rape Law Reform”, Paper presented to the Australasian Political Studies Association Conference University of Tasmania.

Sullivan, Barbara, 2003, “Trafficking in Women: Feminism and New International Law”, International Feminist Journal of Politics 5/1.

Weitzer, Ronald, 2006, “Moral Crusade against Prostitution”, Society.

©athiqahnuralami.wordpress.com, 2010.
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