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Prostitution, trafficking and feminism: An update on the debate

Within the academy the ‘sex work’ position, i.e. that prostitution should be understood as legitimate work, and an expression of women’s choice and agency, has become the dominant perspective. Most feminist scholars now take this point of view or show sympathy towards it. The critical approach to prostitution that was almost universal amongst feminists from the nineteenth century up till the 1980s, that prostitution arises from and symbolizes the subordination of women, is much less often expressed. The ‘sex work’ position has been extended to the issue of trafficking of women into prostitution through the transformation of trafficking into ‘migration for labour’ (Agustin, 2007). This new approach to trafficking, which draws a veil over the human rights issues involved and carefully removes the issue of the destination of the vast majority of trafficking in women, prostitution, from view, is fast becoming predominant amongst feminist academics writing on the issue in the fields of development studies and migration studies (Jeffreys, 2006).

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