Since March 2017 SEXHUM has focused almost exclusively on data gathering by undertaking both participant observations and semi-structured interviews in all of its 4 national settings. Overall the project has gathered 98 per cent of its data and the research team is analysing them in order to produce its first preliminary findings. All but 4 of the 200 planned interviews with migrant sex worker respondents were undertaken by the end of February 2020.
The SEXHUM research team was able to gather across all of its four national settings the experiences of a great variety of people working in the sex industry, in terms of their ethnicity, area of work, migration, sex-gender identity, class and race.
Having access to such variety is a great early achievement of the project, which was able to analyse strategically different experiences of agency and exploitation in relation to sex work and to the impact of anti-trafficking and other humanitarian and social interventions on migrant sex workers’ lives and rights.
The analysis of the data gathered by the project advances the study of agency by contextualizing it within the material, socio-economic and cultural dimensions within which it emerges and evolves in relation to transforming circumstances in the lives of migrants.
More specifically, the great diversity of our research participants challenges the stereotypically sex-gendered and racialised criteria of victimhood guiding humanitarian and other social interventions, which often misread and ignore migrant sex workers’ real vulnerabilities and limit their agency by exacerbating their exploitability in the sex industry and in other sectors of employment of migrant labour.
In Australia, SEXHUM will provide the sex work community and organizations with recent and timely data useful to defend aspects of the current legislation in NSW whilst advocating for full-decriminalization in NSW, Victoria and in other Australian states, at a time when existing policies are being reviewed critically by political and non-governmental actors across Australia.
In France, the project collaborated with Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) in 2018 to produce a report that was prepared with and used by sex workers organizations to fight against the criminalization of clients and the implementation of the Swedish Model more broadly: https://www.opendemocracy.net/beyondslavery/nicola-mai-calogero-giametta-h-l-ne-le-bail/impact-of-swedish-model-in-france-chronicl
In the US, the project focused on the brutal realities of violence and abuse faced by Asian cis women and black and Latinx trans sex workers of colour, who have been targeted by anti-migrant and anti-sex work police interventions and deportations under the Trump administration. Its findings provide powerful documentation of such abuses that will be useful to policymakers, sex worker rights activists and academic allies.
In New Zealand the project gathered the experiences of migrant sex workers in a context of increasingly racialised anti-migrant rhetoric and interventions. Its findings show clearly that current decriminalizing legislation should be extended to all migrant sex workers to protect their labour and human rights.
By taking into considerations migrant sex workers’ complex, contextual and shifting experiences of self-realization, labour and exploitation the research findings challenge prevailing humanitarian understandings of sex work as coinciding with sexual exploitation, whilst offering nuanced, ethical and non-harmful suggestions to policymakers and law enforcement.