Sex work, migration and agency: Overview

Research objective

Using semi-structured interviews, this research aims to:

  • Investigate how im/migrant women in sex work negotiate their agency, mobility and security across differently regulated contexts in sex work and migration.

Research questions

  1. How do regulatory frameworks produce illegality and legality in sex work and migration? And how are these fluctuations of illegality and legality (in movement and within the workplace) negotiated by im/migrant women sex workers in order to secure their agency, security and mobility?
  2. How do sex work and migration regulatory frameworks shape individual and collective spaces for agency, security, and mobility in sex work?

a) How does collective agency in sex workplaces impact on im/migrant sex workers’ security and mobility in sex work and migration?
b) How is collective agency in the workplace challenged or enabled by sex work and migration regulatory frameworks? 

3. How do sex workers’ social locations (e.g. race, class) shift across borders and workplaces? And how do these shifts shape spaces for agency, mobility and security in sex work and migration?

The legal/illegal categories assigned to im/migrant women in sex work can vary dramatically across different regulatory contexts, both in regards to their migration and involvement in sex work. To negotiate varying criminalized and/or regulated contexts, im/migrant women sex workers must employ a range of strategies to maintain their safety and security (physically, financially, socially, emotionally, etc.). Strategies can change depending on spaces allowed by regulatory frameworks, women’s social locations (e.g. gender, migrant status) and other social factors (e.g. migrant communities’ responses). Women’s strategies to negotiate their security and working conditions can be complex as some strategies can be simultaneously perceived to increase both risk and security (e.g. isolation), depending on the context.

Applying an intersectional theoretical framework to an analysis of migrant sex workers’ security and agency can illuminate the relations between mobility and women’s negotiation of social difference. The increasingly numerous identities im/migrants embody across borders and workplaces offers an innovative application of intersectionality theory, which has traditionally been used to analyse more historically anchored social differences (e.g. Black feminist thought). An intersectional analysis of sex workers’ fluid social locations can also help contest current migration policy and practice’s reliance on static conceptualisations of migrant identity.