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GLOBAL SEX - Seeing Human Trafficking from the Global South

Monograph Fellowships


Global Sex draws on unique longitudinal data I have collected over nearly two decades of anthropological research on migration, women, sex work and trafficking. I filled my first notebook in a Danish brothel at Thy in 2003. My last notebook was completed in spring of 2020, when coronavirus began altering the lives of the migrant women among whom I had been working. Global Sex intends to take the reader on a journey across borders and behind doors in Asia, Africa, Europe and Denmark in order to understand migration and human trafficking for sex work from the perspectives of the women involved. By including the voices of the women themselves and their communities, I hope to offer a more holistic and visionary approach to trafficking and women's migration.


Building on contemporary critical migration and trafficking studies, I suggest that the precise point at which tolerable forms of sex-work migration end and human trafficking begins vary in accordance with different political and moral values that are not easily captured by legal definitions. Rather, I intend to show how questions of exploitation and voluntariness often circle around complex questions of consent within specific cultural contexts and along migration routes. By means of my data I am able to demonstrate that contemporary female migration and human trafficking cannot be understood without recognizing that "sex as a global commodity" is a key to these women accessing money, work and immigration papers.


My method has been to follow "sex as a commodity". Asking "why, how and where?", I have followed people as they travel from one side of the globe to the other to buy or sell sex: from Thai massage parlors in Thy in Denmark to the Red-Light District of Istedgade in Copenhagen, and from sex tourists in Pattaya to undocumented Nigerian women migrants crossing the Mediterranean to sell sex in Europe. Since 2003 I have stayed in continual contact with these localities, thus enabling me to adopt a longitudinal approach, as well as interviewing more than a hundred women.


The trafficking of women into the sex industries of the EU and Denmark has received increasing scholarly and political attention, as well as being seen as a significant societal challenge. Despite this attention, however, one hitherto neglected but important question is how these types of migration influence the communities in the Global South from which women's migration to the sex industries of the Global North continues to be rampant. In Global Sex, I break with those earlier studies that have been focused on the places, such as in Denmark, where human trafficking is conducted to show instead what is at stake in the local communities from which the women come.