The Politics of Trafficking: The First International Movement to Combat the Sexual Exploitation of Women

By Stephanie A. Limoncelli | Go to book overview

2
The Internationalization of Prostitution
and Emergence of the Traffic

PROSTITUTION IS POPULARLY REFERRED TO AS THE “WORLD's OLDEST PROFESSION,a moniker that belies several important assumptions that should be analyzed rather than taken for granted by scholars. The belief that Prostitution is an inevitable form of labor, that it is essentially timeless and truly global, suggests that its organization and meaning have varied little over centuries and across cultures.1 Like other forms of social organization pertaining to gender and sexual relations, however, Prostitution should be considered in historical perspective so that its continuities and differences in various contexts may be better understood.2 To avoid reifying Prostitution, we must consider its social construction and place it within a historical context.

Such an analysis provides the necessary background for understanding the first international anti-trafficking movement, which was in part a reaction to the shift in the organization of Prostitution from premodern, small-scale forms to a modernized, bureaucratized, and international industry in the 1800s. This shift not only happened as a by-product of increased globalization involving colonial expansion, economic interconnectedness, and international migration, but also was due to the institutionalization of Prostitution by state officials around the world. Globalization created possibilities for the expansion and internationalization of Prostitution markets in the 1800s, but their growth was not simply the result of spontaneous entrepreneurship across the world. Rather, state officials routinely set up regulated systems of Prostitution and sought to control the type of women (indigenous and foreign) who were in the brothels.3 They both promoted and sought to control migratory Prostitution in service of men, nation, and empire, spurring a nascent infrastructure for the

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