Sex work, immigration and social difference

2017-03-01T23:34:50Z (GMT) by Ham, Julie
Public discourses around ‘migrant sex workers’ are often more confident about what migrant sex workers signify morally (i.e. vulnerability, criminality) but are less clear about who the ‘migrant’ is. This thesis interrogates the implications of the ‘migrant sex worker’ category based on semi-structured interviews with 65 immigrant, migrant and racialised women in sex work and two support staff in Melbourne, Australia and Vancouver, Canada during 2013–2014. Specifically, I employ an intersectional theoretical lens to investigate how this group of sex workers negotiate their security, agency and mobility across contrasting regulatory frameworks in these two cities. Contrary to research, policy and public assumptions (regarding race, ethnicity and language), many interviewees are not ‘migrant sex workers’, but are naturalised citizens or permanent residents whose involvement in the sex industry intersects with diverse ideas and experiences of citizenship and residency in Australia and Canada. Contrasting regulatory frameworks across the two research sites produce both ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ professional identities in the sex industry that are mobilised in different ways. Lastly, in contrast to public and research discourses, which continue to associate social difference with risk and vulnerability, sex workers’ positioned social difference as business concerns or factors that influenced their success (or lack of) in the sex industry. Theoretically, these findings contribute a more contextual, dynamic understanding of agency beyond the static definitions of agency that endure in current feminist debates around sex work. Empirically, these findings challenge how the ‘migrant’ is defined in sex work discourses and calls for a more nuanced and precise understanding of the ‘migrant’ sex worker in law reform efforts, policy frameworks, and social change strategies.