Friday, November 6, 2015

[Friday Seminar Recap] Risks, resources and allies: sex workers’ strategies for working with other sex workers

Risks, resources and allies: sex workers’ strategies for working with other sex workers

Speaker: Prof. Julie Ham (Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, the University of Hong Kong)
Time: 1:00 – 2:30 pm, 25 Sept 2015 (Friday)
Venue: Room 401, Humanities Building, New Asia College, CUHK


Sex work has been legalized in Canada and Australia to different extents. In Canada, the Canadian criminal code has imposed strict regulations on sex work; while in Australia, a variation of models between legalization and criminalization exists. Prof. Julie Ham interviewed 65 migrants, immigrants and racialized women who work as sex workers in Vancouver and Melbourne, in order to find out their workplace relationships with one another.

Prof. Sealing Cheng welcoming Prof. Julie Ham, speaker of the seminar 

Sex workers have been working as competitors and colleagues in an often criminalized and stigmatized society. Ham analyzes that three approaches have mainly been employed by sex workers in treating their relationship with fellow workers, namely protective approach, professionalism approach, and solidarity approach. Protective approach refers to the way of perceiving co-workers as risks, and 20% of the Ham’s informants fall into this category; solidarity approach means treating co-workers as allies, with 53% of the informants being classified into this group; whereas professionalism approach is defined as the way of viewing co-workers as resources, with 27% of the informants taking this approach.

Informants that are using the protective approach treat fellow workers as competitors, and believe that one has to rely on oneself to figure out the truth, since co-workers are unreliable source of information. Some of the sex workers taking this approach also recall the experience of having their money or customers being stolen by co-workers. On the contrary, informants employing solidarity approach try to be supportive to each other, and care about whether or not other co-workers are doing well too. Informants taking professionalism approach assume a distant relationship in the workplace. As Julie Ham said, “They can be friendly with each other, but not friends.” They treat their work as business, but at the same time they try to manage other people’s emotion to avoid troubles.

Attendees of the seminar

Ham concludes that what approaches the sex workers take are influenced by their past experience and personal attitude towards the industry. Sex-workers’ relationships in the workplace is an integral part of understanding the industry and how sex work is managed, which gives us insight into how women’s agency, security and mobility are being shaped in sex work. 

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