Redefining the sex trade

On Mar. 21, Rutvica Andrijasevic gave a talk in the Laurier Graduate Lounge discussing her book concerning the agenda of sex trafficking.

Andrijasevic’s view of the topic, however, was quite contrary to common associations with the term. “Women who have been involved in sex trafficking are typically seen as victims,” she explained, going on to add that this should not be the case.

“When you hear stories of women’s migration that involves forced prostitution, the story stops there,” Andrijasevic said. “It’s as if there is nothing left to her story. Once she became a prostitute, that was it. Nothing happened after.”
Andrijasevic spent many years in Europe completing field work that dealt with women who had somehow become a part of the sex trade. Most of her subjects were obtained from the women’s shelter.

Throughout her talk, Andrijasevic constantly tried to enforce the idea that women who somehow become involved in sex trafficking are not always helpless. She expressed, “People don’t include their other identities like being a mother or a wife, they just see them as a prostitute.”

When asked what the women thought of this classification, Andrijasevic said, “It’s important to show that these women are all many parts of a whole, not just one classification.

“You have to let these contradictions speak, because just being considered a victim is too narrow.”

Andrijasevic also presented a slide show that depicted common interpretations of women being subjected to this employment.

She noted that in these pictures, women are commonly white and blond because that emphasized the idea of innocence and victimization.

“In a way,” Andrijasevic said, “these types of campaigns, though well intentioned, induce a kind of fear in women. Kind of warning them that it’s best to stay home because look what can happen to you.” Andrijasevic said that she is trying to recreate and reconstruct the images people have come to associate with sex trafficking.

Her book, Migration, Agency and Citizenship in Sex Trafficking, discusses the distinctions between trafficking and smuggling, cross-border migration and how women who have been involved now tell their stories.

Andrijasevic noted, “The women constantly disassociate themselves from being a prostitute. It was always that someone else was a prostitute, but not them.”
She continued to say that when studying these women and their situation, “it was important not only to look at their working conditions, but whether or not their considered their identity to be that of a worker.”

“I went into the field with a completely different set of questions than I came out with,” Andrijasevic said, laughing.

“But that’s life. I wanted them to say something else than what they were actually saying and as a feminist this was frustrating for me.”

Rutvica Andrijasevic holds a doctorate in women’s studies from Utrecht University in the Neatherlands and is specialized in the area of migration and gender.

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