Sex Work Research Hub & Irish Sex Work Research Network PGR Conference 26th March 2021, Presentation Proceedings
2021’s Annual Postgraduate Research Conference took place online on 26th March 2021. This event was jointly organised by the Sex Work Research Hub and the Irish Sex Work Research Network. The programme outline is available here.
You can read the abstracts below and view the full conference proceedings here
A secular Mariology? Exploring neo-abolitionist ideologies around sex work as a continuance of Catholic devotion in Ireland.
Laura Wallace, University of Leeds.
The premise of this paper is that religious sensitivities – sometimes in secular afterlives – continue to underpin the politics of sexuality in general, and discourses about sex work more specifically, in Ireland as a historically predominantly Catholic country. It focuses on the role in which Mariology, and Irish forms of devotion to Mary, have informed anti-sex work discourse and discusses the notion of a ‘secular’ continuation of these practices. By drawing on Gerardine Meaney’s (2009) notion of ‘virgin mother Ireland’, the paper builds on her work in relation to the industrialisation of devotion to argue that the centrality of Mariology in the Irish national identity is linked to residual anxieties around race and sex work in Ireland. I argue that anti-sex work discourse in Ireland continues a distinct form of Mariology through a moral panic surrounding migrant sex workers.
SWAGS: Sex Workers and An Garda Síochána - Policy, reality, and a sociological imaginary.
Doris Murphy, University of Cork
I will present a paper on the current policy context regarding sex work in the Republic of Ireland.
I plan to discuss the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, and also the guidance or policies that An
Garda Síochána follow regarding sex work offences. I intend to review the legislation and policy
documents, and compare these to the context in other territories. This will be desk-based research, a
literature review regarding policing policy. This research will make clear the guidelines An Garda
Síochána are following regarding sex work. This will allow for better relationships between sex workers,
sex worker advocacy groups, researchers, and An Garda Síochána. The second part of the paper will
consider sex workers’ experiences of interacting with An Garda Síochána in Ireland. This section will draw
on recent research by the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (2020), Campbell et al. (2020), McGarry and Ryan
(2020), and Berry (2020) whom all investigated sex workers’ experiences in Ireland under the current
legislation. This will provide an insight into whether sex workers are feeling the benefit of a law which
purported to decriminalise them. It will also provide a critical analysis of the policing of sex work, which if
operating in the spirit of the law should be protecting rather than punishing sex workers. I will also
investigate how policing intersects with housing and migration issues for sex workers. I will conclude the
paper by creating a sociological imaginary where sex workers are recognised as full citizens in Ireland, who
do not live in fear of An Garda Síochána. I will consider what policies and legislation would be required to
make this sociological imaginary a reality.
The Social Life of Sex Workers in a Gentrifying Neighbourhood: Towards an Ethnography of Kamathipura, India.
Jo Krishnakumar, SOAS
This paper is a collection of thoughts on the work I have done as part of my PhD research project that is aimed at foregrounding the voices and everyday experiences of sex workers in India to create alternative narratives in public imagination and inclusive paradigms in policy. It is contextualised in Kamathipura, a ‘red light district’ in Mumbai, India. The neighbourhood, which houses sex workers and other informal workers, has been historically subjected to state-control and violence. Sites of urban sexual labour embody places-in-crisis, and Kamathipura has faced gentrification, police violence, raids, HIV-based interventions, discrimination, heavy NGO-isation, and now COVID-19. In the project, I examine two forms of gentrification- spatial, with inflating real estate prices making it close to impossible for Kamathipura’s inhabitants to hold onto what they call home, and the gentrification of knowledge about these workers. The gentrification of knowledge about Kamathipura’s workers is an ongoing process aided by discrimination based on gender/caste/class identities, narratives in the media questioning morality, victimising, erasing agency; the social mobility of surrounding communities; an urban/elite gaze; non-representative policy-making; and state-sponsored violence - all of which constitute a cyclical process shaping public imagination that views sex workers as only worthy of saving, discarding, and pitting against middle/upper class and caste honour and morality. This eventually translates into ill-informed policy detrimental to workers’ rights, economic independence, networks of community and home. The paper draws on my individual experiences of being a trans person who has grown up on the fringes of the queer movement in India and offers a humane and sex worker centred voice to my work, where I act only as an amplifier to the sex workers’ rights movement in India and the Global South.
"Well, I'm still here..." A feminist ethnography on the lived experiences of sex workers in relation to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act, 2017 in the Republic of Ireland.
Aoife Kirk, NUI Galway
In 2017, the Irish government enacted Swedish-style legislation, which criminalised the purchase of sexual services. Baseline research on the sex industry in Ireland was not conducted by the state prior to the change in the law, therefore it is difficult to measure the impact of the new legislation on the lives of sex workers. This research takes a postmodern feminist approach which privileges the voice of the sex worker and their experiences in relation to the prostitution legislation in the Republic of Ireland. The voices of sex workers were muffled and silenced by radical feminists and their supporters in the Irish government. Despite their efforts to express their discontent with the proposed changes to prostitution legislation, they were ignored. The radical feminist perspective on sex work as violence and oppression has reduced all sex workers to victims with little, or no agency. In this study, three sex workers volunteered to participate in semi-structured interviews that were informed by feminist ethnographic practices and a participantfocused approach. Further research is needed to reflect the diversity of the sex worker community. The research found that the new law has not ended male demand for sexual services. Sex workers are working under difficult circumstances since the introduction of the current legislation. They are vulnerable to crime and violence and have limited access to the justice system as aspects of their work remain criminalised. The presence of a sex worker community has helped workers to navigate and adapt to the new law. Though in order to ensure sex workers’ rights, to protect them from violence and crime, and to improve their lives, we must listen to their voices.
Reading in and writing out: sex work, biblical interpretation and the politics of in/decency’
Bea Fones, Independent Scholar
This paper explores the representation of sex workers in biblical texts and their reception, and how the interpretation of these biblical narratives impacts on how sex work is perceived in various contemporary contexts.
When sex workers are identified in the Bible, they often serve as personifications of sin and idolatry. They are cast as perpetrators or victims of personal or structural sin, who must either repent or be saved. This is often reflected in the approach of churches and faith-based organisations providing outreach services. It is relatively uncommon for biblical scholars, theologians and scholars of religion to discuss sex work in depth, and it is exceedingly rare for these conversations to include the voices of real sex workers. In both the texts and their interpretations, sex workers are largely condemned, erased, or subjected to a narrative of victimisation; rarely are their rights and perspectives prioritised. This has been criticised by sex workers themselves, calling for their agency and their own readings of biblical texts on sex work to be taken seriously.
The labour of the few actual sex workers in the Bible is brushed under the carpet by interpreters or used to illustrate the unlikelihood of their heroism. Other figures whose dominant cultural constructions associate them with sex work, such as Mary Magdalene, are forcibly sanitised. ‘Feminist’ biblical scholars who aim to distance Mary Magdalene from sex work, making her an acceptable role model for women in the church, play into the binaries of in/decency central to the dominant heteropatriarchal Christian tradition, even as they aim to resist them. This sets sex workers apart, exacerbating their marginalisation and subjecting them to further discrimination and violence.
Influenced by Marcella Althaus-Reid’s ‘indecent theology’ and Avaren Ipsen and Nancy Tan’s sex worker-led readings of selected biblical texts, this paper argues that biblical sex workers, as well as ambiguous figures such as Mary Magdalene, should be approached with an ‘indecent hermeneutic’ which leaves space for ambiguities and the subjective meanings they hold for marginalised groups.
I argue that it is crucial to transform scholarly approaches to sex work in theology and biblical studies, pursuing a rights-based approach which rejects narratives of victimisation, condemnation, and erasure, and prioritises the voices, agency and welfare of sex workers.
Celebrity, Trophy Hunting and the ‘Porn Star’
Caroline West, Dublin City University
Working conditions have changed rapidly in the American mainstream pornography industry since its inception. While Linda Lovelace may have been the ‘world's first porn star’ back in the Golden Age of the 1970’s, performers now have a range of obstacles to navigate in order to stand out from their peers and attain stardom. As well as learning on-set skills that focus on sexual activity, performers need to quickly develop a range of skills off-set, from branding, social media management, and cultivate their fan base. This presentation will outline some of this skillset and examine how some performers have successfully built their brand as an in demand porn star. However, one aspect that also needs analysis- but is often missing from conversations about labour and pornography- is the relationship between performers and their fans. In my doctoral research into the experiences of women working in pornography, performers outlined some of the positive and negative aspects of maintaining an accessible realtionship with fans. These relationships included both online and real life interactions at expos such as the AVN expo in Las Vegas. While some performers noted than fans flew across the world to meet them, others revealing disturbing interactions tinged with violence. These interactions ranged from physical violence to stalking and family harassment. This behaviour of ‘trophy hunting’ from fans will be discussed in the context of exploring labour conditions and the management of the identity of ‘porn star’ that performers navigate. Due to stigmatisation, pornography performers navigate their celebrity status differently to celebrities in other entertainment industries, and this can impact the parasocial relationship between fan and performer. This presentation will highlight these nuances and explore how performers discuss the role of stigma and objectification in their interactions with fans.
The interconnectivity of the sex industry: The relationship of lap dancers with the wider sex working community in the UK
Tess Herrmann, University of York
Lap dancers occupy a unique position inside the sex industry, both in terms of social stigmatisation, as lap dancing is often more socially accepted than other forms of sex work, and the legal framework, as strip clubs are legalised in the UK and brothels are not. This can lead to frictions inside the sex working community. While some lap dancers consider their work to be part of the wider sex industry and stand in solidarity with the struggles of full-service sex workers, others aim to distance themselves from those who offer other sexual services. This phenomenon is often described as the ‘whorearchy’ and although it is well-known in the sex working community, there is little academic research into its functioning. This PhD investigates the ways in which lap dancers associate or disassociate with the term 'sex worker', the implications of this for the sex workers' rights movement, and the role of the Covid-19 pandemic, as many lap dancers picked up other forms of sex work during the various lockdowns. For this, an online self-completion survey as well as online focus groups with lap dancers, full-service sex workers, and people who have done both are planned. As the fieldwork is to start in March 2021, I will present the main outcomes from my literature review, outlining the public debates surrounding sex work and morality as well as licensing laws of strip clubs, and then give some insight into my methodology, particularly the benefits and risks of insiderness to the sex working community.
Timely Telling Tweets: Evaluation of a narrative review completed in real time utilising Amsterdam window sex worker tweets on the future legislation proposals of window prostitution
Donna Finer, UCLAN
Window prostitution has been legal in Amsterdam since 2000, there are currently 288 windows in the Red Light District accommodating approximately 400 window sex workers. In July 2019 the Amsterdam Government outlined four potential scenarios for the future of window prostitution in the Red-Light District. The main reason for these proposals for the radicalisation of window prostitution was the nuisance caused by the large crowds in the city centre, the disrespectful behaviour of visitors towards sex workers and residents and the importance of combating abuses around window prostitution. This paper presents an evaluation of a narrative review created in ‘real time’ from September 2019 – August 2020 of 15 window sex worker views on the proposals, how they impact on their career, their personal reflections and concerns gathered through social media platforms particularly Twitter. The aims of this paper are highlighting that narrative reviews whilst often deemed lower on the hierarchy of evidence that in fact, they are perfectly acceptable when presenting views, stories and snapshots of how these proposals are interpreted from 15 sex workers and can be considered richer when presented as a continuous timeline demonstrating how their views and opinions change online in reaction to policy development from consultation to final decision, alongside the impact of retweets, and likes of their posts. Although not without challenges as further aiming to raise awareness of ethical considerations and concerns of using Tweets, retweets and likes as qualitative data within research used in an academic dissertation, whilst maintain adherence to ethical pathways and associated concerns of confidentiality. Overall this paper seeks to offer insight to academic students who are considering this method of research and inclusion of qualitative data that can be found via Twitter. You can see parts of the presentation at this link.
Humour in a Serious Business
Ezgi Güler, European University Institute
Based on participant-observation and in-depth interviews my dissertation delves into the everyday struggles of a community of trans women involved in the informal sex economy in an urban context of contemporary Turkey. It particularly investigates their care-networks and resistance movements in the face of physical and structural violence. The struggles this population capitalize on, namely, coping, mobilizing, and resisting, despite being conceptualized by different perspectives, co-exist in this social space. They are performed by the same actors and slide into one another in everyday practice. As a part of these struggles, this chapter discusses the forms of humor generated and utilized by trans women in a sex working community that I conducted my research with. Given that sexual minorities have historically been assumed to lack a capacity for wit and humor, I argue that jokes, mockery, parodies, and performances, though usually overlooked and misconceived, are vital aspects of the social life in this trans neighborhood and sex market. I observed that humor arises from transgender sex workers’ everyday experiences of physical and structural violence and is a way to cope with and resist their conditions as well as to signal support for one another. The theoretical implications of this chapter are discussed in relation to the larger resistance and coping literatures.
Sex workers rights are human rights. Or not? The art of kidnapping human rights
Marjan Wijers, University of Essex
Since the 1970s sex workers across the world have started to use the human rights framework to claim legitimacy and advocate for civil and labour rights with the slogan ‘sex workers rights are human rights’. However, this is not without problems. Fed by the dominant anti-trafficking discourse, sex workers’ human rights are attacked at their very heart by an increasingly influential neo-abolitionist coalition of radical feminists and Christian evangelicals who advance the view that sex work is violence against women and a violation of human rights. This paper looks at the role of sex workers and human rights arguments in the recent public and political debates on the 2017 German ProstituiertenSchutzGesetz (Prostitutes Protection Law). The law introduced mandatory registration and counselling of sex workers, including the obligation to carry a special prostitute ID. It was adopted despite broad-based resistance of sex workers, service providers and jurists, who pointed out its expected negative effects on the safety and health of sex workers. Using the example of Germany, I will argue that, notwithstanding claims of universality of human rights, the abolitionist anti-sex work campaign highjacked human rights as a vehicle to exclude and silence sex workers and justify their repression. Through the gateway of female victimhood and dignity human rights are used to create a hierarchy of ‘human-ness’ to contain deviant sexuality, define who belongs and who does not, and to re-establish the white middle-class heteronormative monogamous model of ‘good’ sexuality.
Protecting sex worker labour rights in the UK: the “worker status” approach
In the UK, sex work abolitionists continue to class all sex work as gendered violence. This is illustrated by the introduction of a Private Members Bill in December 2020 that, if enacted, would criminalise the purchase of sex. Nonetheless, the claim that sex work is legitimate work is far less novel or controversial than it was in the 1970s, during which the sex work as “work” vs “exploitation” debate originated. However, how exactly the law might guarantee the labour rights of sex workers remains relatively underexplored. New Zealand is the only state to date to afford sex workers labour rights. In this paper I will assess the extent to which recognising sex workers as “workers”, an intermediary employment status under UK law, would enhance their labour rights. Drawing upon the cases Quashie and Nowak, I will find that the entitlements afforded to “workers” may already currently available to one group of sex workers: dancers/strippers. However, I will emphasise that extending this approach to all sex workers will require the surmounting of significant legal and social hurdles. I will then highlight that, although New Zealand is often described as the world-leader in sex worker labour rights protection, the absence of an intermediary “worker” status under New Zealand employment law risks limiting the protection it offers to sex workers.
Sex Worker Professionalisation Initiatives as a Strategy for Spreading the Ideology of Sex Worker Rights
Nadine Gloss, University of Leeds Business School
In this presentation, I discuss the data from three events in which I participated and observed during the fieldwork for my PhD thesis on the sex worker rights movement in Germany. These events were part of the profiS program, described as a sex worker professionalisation initiative. profiS was conceived by long-time sex worker rights activist Stephanie Klee who identified a deficit in the access to knowledge for sex workers when it came to understanding the German system and working legally. The program was conceptualised as a series of workshops to transmit knowledge to sex workers working mainly in venues around Germany who were new to the country or who worked precariously. Designed to provide advice or assistance to these sex workers about different aspects of the German system, profiS was intended to help them to carry out sex work legally and to be able to navigate the German system with an awareness of their rights. Following the completion of my thesis, I returned to my fieldwork data about profiS and ask in what ways the ideology of sex worker rights activism is manifested within the design of the profiS workshops. Specifically, I reflect on the extent to which these workshops are carried out with political intentions aimed not only at increasing sex workers’ awareness of their rights, but also for cultivating a political consciousness among them. Beyond the knowledge transmission aspect of the workshops and the intention of making sex workers more aware of their rights, there is an underlying political aim of encouraging sex workers attending the workshops to mobilise into the fight for sex worker rights. The goal of the paper is to trace specific strategies in the profiS seminars and workshops, in order to show how sex workers are both being educated and encouraged to mobilise for their rights.
Correlates of Client-perpetrated Violence against Female Sex Workers in Bogotá
Carlos Iglesias, University of Manchester
This paper aims to estimate the prevalence of client-perpetrated sexual and physical violence against female sex workers (FSW) in Bogotá, Colombia and to understand what structural and environmental factors are associated with such victimisation. The project looked at secondary data from interviews with 2,625 FSW conducted in 2017. Multivariable binary logistic regression was used to test for associations with client-perpetrated physical and sexual violence. Spatial autocorrelation tests were used to find patterns of violence at a municipality level. Findings reveal that macrostructural and community factors such as experiencing police harassment and social stigma were positively associated with client-perpetrated violence, while other factors such as migration were not. Situational factors such as providing services in motels, hotels and on the street and in cars were associated with increased odds of becoming a victim of sexual and physical violence. Perhaps most interestingly, associations between client-perpetrated violence and working inside tolerance zones did not yield a significant result. This study shows that sex work in itself is not a risk to violence but that there are structural and environmental factors that influence sex workers’ odds of victimisation. Specifically, feeling stigmatised by the community and experiencing police harassment were positively related to victimisation, while migration was negatively correlated, and working in tolerance zones showed no effect. Considering environmental features we find that contacting clients on the street and working on the street is associated with victimisation, but so is working in hotels/motels, challenging the traditional indoor/outdoor distinction in risk found in prior research.
A sociology of UK sex worker activism
Ray Filar, University of Sussex
There is relatively little academic knowledge about UK sex worker activism, an important social liberation movement spanning the last five decades. Criminalisation and stigma has meant sex workers have often been presumed incapable of their own political speech. Despite this, the most exciting and worthwhile sex worker politics emanate from those with lived and activist experience. This paper argues that sex worker activism is a vital, core part of British feminism that has been erased within the writing of modern intellectual feminist histories, erasing a sex worker politics which is also a politics of women’s work, or feminized service industry labour. This paper enacts a documentary and discursive analysis of sex worker activism, focusing on the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) and the Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement (SWARM).
The Family Business – Intergenerational Sexual Exploitation
Rachel Searcey, University of Loughborough
Young women’s transition into street-based sex work out of sexually exploitative circumstances are widely documented (Dalla, 2006; Hartworth & Hartworth, 2015; Lee & O’Brien, 1995; Ling, 2001; Sidebotham et al., 2016). However, little attention has been paid to the links between child sexual exploitation (CSE) and street-based sex work regarding supportive networks during emerging adulthood. CSE is a form of child abuse (Crown, 2014); thus, each young person should receive a transitional care pathway plan into adult services. However, this research has found that not all young women were supported in emerging adulthood. Nonetheless, the complex nature of processes in which perpetrators use to ‘target’ young people often makes identifying CSE highly problematic (Berry, Tully, & Egan, 2017). However, this research further identified an intergenerational link between street-based sex work and CSE, a finding noted in sex work research, yet remains underexplored across CSE research. I argue that a family history of street sex is an additional pathway that requires consideration.
An exploration of the dimensions of healthcare access for sex workers: A review of the literature in Ireland and New Zealand
Zoe McCormack, Maynooth University, Ireland
Sex workers are heavily stigmatised and discriminated against globally. This is due to many factors such as the socio-economic status of sex workers, views of sexual morality and social and cultural norms that pervade the environments in which they work. Sex workers also have specific health needs due to their work and because of the high levels of stigma they experience their access to health and social care can be limited. This paper will examine the dimensions of health access for sex workers using the Levesque, Harris and Russell (2013) framework focusing on the context for sex workers in Ireland (where sex work is partially criminalised) and in New Zealand (where sex work is decriminalised). This paper suggests that there is a pattern of healthcare access dependant upon the wider legal framework of sex worker policy; when sex work is decriminalised (e.g: New Zealand citizen sex workers) there is greater access to and acceptability of mainstream health services, whereas in a partially criminalised environment (e. g: New Zealand migrant sex workers and sex workers in Ireland), there is an avoidance of healthcare services not specifically focused on sex workers health.
"It's Not Easy": Sex Worker Subjectivity and Formation of Feminist Standpoints
Jessica Van Meir
Improving the lives of sex workers requires understanding their subjective experiences and desires. Nevertheless, the voices of sex workers in developing regions, such as Latin America, remain underrepresented in scholarly literature on prostitution. Through interviews with 109 current and former sex workers in Buenos Aires, Argentina and several cities in Ecuador, this paper examines how sex workers feel about selling sexual services, how they identify themselves, and what they believe would improve their life conditions. Participants expressed seemingly contradictory views towards sex work. Although most disliked it and wanted to leave, they also stressed that they did sex work voluntarily, emphasized its economic benefits, and wanted the government to provide greater freedom for selling sex and recognize it as work. Their emphasis that sex work is “not easy” underlines the challenges of their lives as sex workers while rejecting societal attempts to define them. In both countries, collective organizing played an important role in empowering sex workers to develop a political identity, voice their desires, and demand their rights as citizens. Through collective formation of feminist identities, sex workers create feminist standpoints to work towards changing the existing social and political order.
The Dunedin Model: Dunedin sex worker experience under decriminalisation in Aotearoa New Zealand
Peyton Bond, University of Otago Dunedin, New Zealand
The Prostitution Reform Act 2003 (PRA) decriminalised sex work in New Zealand and represents a best practice model for sex work legislation. This paper is based on a project that focuses on Dunedin, New Zealand due to the absence of council bylaws that may contradict the PRA, and a lack of post-decriminalisation research. The project involved qualitative, semi-structured interviews with seven Dunedin-based sex workers and one brothel manager in 2018 to determine what decriminalisation can look like under the legislation of the PRA. The analysis and methodology are framed by feminist standpoint theory. I conclude that the PRA is successful when (a) the operators (managers) adhere fully to the provisions of the PRA and the NZPC guidelines, (b) sex workers are confident and knowledgeable about their rights under the legislation, and (c) councils do not introduce bylaws that contradict the provisions of the PRA. Success is defined as a system that ensures workers’ rights and equitable and fair treatment. I name this success the ‘Dunedin Model.’ The main short-coming of the Dunedin Model is that one of the three factors of the model carries more weight than the others: ‘positive,’ or workers-rights oriented management. That is, holding constant the absence of bylaws and worker knowledge of rights, a negative management experience would deteriorate the success of the Dunedin Model, whereas removing one of the other factors does not wield the same level of detrimental impact. This means that even in a decriminalised, no-bylaw region where workers have strong knowledge of rights, the whims and temporality of management in the industry hold potentially harmful power.
Bottoms up: a whorelistic literature review and commentary on sex workers’ romantic relationships
In this talk, the presenter will be presenting information from her publication of a literature review and commentary on sex workers’ romantic relationships from the journal Sexual and Relationship Therapy. The purpose of the article was more than just to overview the literature; it was to illustrate the health effects faced by those of a sexual minority status in a romantic relationship in a population that is understudied. Thus, the presentation is proposed to unfold threefold: 1. The presentation will first start with an overview of the health effects of romantic relationships to establish a baseline understanding. Then the minority status of sex workers will be defined utilizing Sexual Reconfigurations Theory to situate the unique social location of sex workers and their partners. Finally, related research on marginalised relationships will be overviewed as a stepping stone to the literature review. 2. Both academic and community stakeholder literature were analysed to compare discourses among the two populations. An overview of these two literatures will be integrated into broader research on marginalized relationships, minority stress, and courtesy stigma. 3. Finally, the (in)congruency between community stakeholder concerns and academic concerns will be critically evaluated utilizing an epistemological framework. Results from these comparisons raise ethical concerns on studying sex workers. Sex workers face a heavy set of occupational hazards compounded by minority stress – and as the presentation will reveal, these carry over negatively into their romantic relationships which can then pose detriment to their health. By highlighting these findings, the author aims for other sex work researchers to consider aspects of the discourse often ignored.