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Policies on sex trafficking are changing conceptions of Europe, citizenship and labour markets

Sex trafficking is widely seen as modern slavery. But, in her new book, Rutvica Andrijasevic shows that this labelling process is not as benevolent as it appears.

Based on original ethnographic work and interviews with migrant women from Eastern Europe in street sex work in Italy, Rutvica’s book shows that a perspective that identifies migrant women’s situation in the sex sector with sex trafficking is misleading. It equates trafficking with involuntary migration and does not allow for the complexity of desires, decisions and careful planning that go into women’s migration projects to emerge. Additionally, it hides the role of EU states’ immigration, residency and employment policies in creating conditions that make migrants vulnerable to labour exploitation in the sex or other informal sectors.

The term sex trafficking hides more than it actually reveals about working lives of migrant women in the sex industry and about how conditions of illegality, exploitation and vulnerability arise. These issues, Rutvica suggests, need to be viewed in relation to a wider picture: European citizenship policy. The category of the victim of trafficking limits the way migrant women are conceived, portraying them in a passive light, and denying their rights as active agents and political actors. Anti-trafficking policies need equally to be considered with a critical eye as these often overlap with restrictive border, visa and residency regulations that limit migrants’ labour mobility and access to citizenship. This in turn perpetuates inequalities between citizens and migrants in wider Europe.

Rutvica Andrijasevic has recently joined University of Leicester, after having worked as a Lecturer in Politics at the Open University and been a post-doctoral research fellow at COMPAS, University of Oxford. She gained her PhD in Women’s Studies from the University of Utrecht in 2004.

Rutvica Andrijasevic has published widely on the impact of migration on labour relations and labour markets, with particular emphasis on gender and sexuality, on the relationship between migration, work and changes in citizenship in Europe, and on informal recruitment practices such as those in human trafficking.


Migration and Mobility


Rutvica Andrijasevic