Sunday, August 21, 2011

Prabha Kotiswaran's "Dangerous Sex, Invisible Labor"

Prabha Kotiswaran is lecturer in law at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Dangerous Sex, Invisible Labor: Sex Work and the Law in India, and reported the following:
Prostitution may well be the oldest profession in the world but every few decades, it becomes the focus of considerable social, policy and legal attention. We are today in the midst of such a phase; some feminists would call it a global sex panic. After all, not a day goes by without mention in the media of trafficking, which is invariably conflated with sex trafficking and prostitution or sex work. Trafficking thus conjures up the image of a minor sex slave with garish make-up soliciting in a filthy back-alley of some third world city. Increased criminalization of the sex industry, particularly of customers, is advocated in an endeavour for eradicating prostitution once and for all.

My book Dangerous Sex, Invisible Labor complicates this simplistic narrative of the third world sex slave. Based on empirical work in India, I offer an account of the political economy of two sex markets, namely, of the biggest red light area in Kolkata, i.e. Sonagachi and of Tirupati, a large temple town in Southern India, where the pilgrim population far exceeds even that of the Vatican. Page 99 of the book in fact takes us straight to the heart of the book’s argument, namely, that not all sex workers are trafficked into sex work, that they occupy a range of social and class positions and that the increased criminalization of sex work in fact reduces sex workers’ bargaining power within the industry and adversely affects them. On page 99, I speak of the increasing phenomenon across India of ‘secret’ sex workers or ‘floating’ sex workers; these women are housewives who resort to sex work on the side, often without their husbands’ knowledge. The sex worker I interviewed on this page spoke of how constant sexual harassment in a garment factory led her to take up sex work and get paid at least for the sex. This is sadly the predicament of thousands of sex workers whose lives in the sex industry are closely inter-related to the institutions of the informal economy as well as marriage. Little wonder then, that Indian sex workers’ groups demand workers’ rights on par with workers in the informal economy. While sex work thus continues to be ‘dangerous’ in policy terms, I interrogate the labor inherent in it and how criminal law renders it ‘invisible’ while interrogating demands for workers’ rights.
Learn more about Dangerous Sex, Invisible Labor at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue