Exploitation or Expectations? Moving Beyond Consent in Prostitution, Trafficking and Migration Discourse
Women's Policy Journal of Harvard, 2009/2010, Vol.7, pp.11-22.
14 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2018
Date Written: October 2010
The issue of consent in prostitution has plagued feminist critical thinking for decades, with debates dividing abolitionists on the one side and pro-sex worker advocates on the other. These debates reached a peak at the 2000 negotiations concerning the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons [hereafter, UN Protocol]. In this paper, I argue that one decade later, it is time to move the focus in feminist discourse on prostitution and trafficking away from consent. Debating what does and does not constitute “consent” serves only to leave migrant women in the sex industry in destination countries, whether “coerced” or “voluntary”, no more protected than before the UN Protocol came into force. Using hypothetical examples, my aim is to foster a renewed search for common ground on how we frame prostitution, trafficking and undocumented migration. I suggest that there are mutual interests between opposing feminist perspectives in discussing the “unmet expectations” of all exploited undocumented migrants, allowing both groups of feminists to unite to advocate for the rights of even “willing victims” who face exploitation and abuse under conditions contrary to their expectations prior to embarking on a search for better opportunities.
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