Affective Ties, Citizen-Activists and Migrating Sex Workers

Nick Mai, Professor of Sociology, School of Humanities and Social Science, College of Human and Social Futures, The University of Newcastle (UON), Australia

Migration Sex Work and Trafficking:
The paper presents the findings of the ERC-funded project SEXHUM (Sexual Humanitarianism: migration, sex work and trafficking) studying the impact of policies and interventions targeting migrant sex workers in four national settings (Australia, France, New Zealand, and the United States) characterised by different legal frameworks (criminalisation, regulation, decriminalisation) addressing sex work. It will draw on Professor Mai’s concept of ‘sexual humanitarianism’, referring to the specific role that neoliberal constructions of vulnerability associated to sexual behaviour and identities play in the onset of humanitarian forms of governance of migrant populations. Drawing on 245 interviews with migrant cis and trans research participants working in the sex industry in SEXHUM’s four national settings, we will examine and compare the different and similar ways in which by migrating and engaging in sex work they both challenge and respond to the sexual humanitarian rules constraining people’s social mobilities and life projects in neoliberal times. In doing so, we will focus on the complex and contextual experiences of agency and exploitation of migrant groups who are constructed and targeted as vulnerable to exploitation, violence and abuse in relation to racialised and cis-centric sexual humanitarian canons of victimhood, as well as exploring the impact the related social interventions have on their lives and rights.