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More than a caricature

All throughout the weekend I’ve seen the same phrase being used, often copy pasted, over and over on my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds by all from friends, acquaintances, to total strangers. “A woman from one of the poorest countries in Europe”. It’s like they’re trying to paint a picture, one that resonates clearly in the imagination of all Swedes. A “literary” shortcut, also called a cheap attempt at describing a person. Cos she’s a person, right ? Her own person. Not an archetype.

People seem to prefer a one-dimensional story they can unequivocally judge as good or bad. The complexities of life, especially that which is foreign to them, creates too many grey areas where judgement becomes some times nonsensical.

Is it better to sell sex in your home country than in another country? And at what point do you lose your autonomy and agency? At what point do you go from being your own combination of experiences, decisions, restrictions and privileges, to becoming the archetype of the migrant hooker?

Dressed as saviorism, the patronisation that stems from this archetype only serves to perpetuate the same structures and rob us from our power.

It manifests in a variety of ways. Charging as much as a Swedish national can is almost impossible. Renting a place requires you to either have been in the country for long, know someone, accept exorbitantly high prices or provide sex in exchange. Clients are prejudiced and prefer going to Swedish escorts as they deem them more safe, or less likely to be victims of pimping. Having a safety net is harder, and often puts you in the position of risking problems with law enforcement if your only option is to work with a friend.

And at the end of the day, it goes through every layer of society. It comes from clients who gasp at knowing some skill, knowledge or interest that show more depth in your “character” than they would expect (if you even bother to show it at all). It comes from NGOs who do the same, whose help is tailored according to the expectations they have of what you need instead of what you esteem you need, who base their actions in charity instead of in solidarity. It comes from acquaintances who spit the same worn out clichés without knowing they sit in front of someone who belongs to the collective they’re talking about. It comes from the police, who believe themselves to be some sort of hero while they often are simply signing an involuntary flight home or stealing a person’s hard earned cash.

From the State’s part, I’d say it’s only a facade. I’m too skeptical to believe they are not intentional in their trying to keep foreign hookers out of the country. So you see, something that happens when you’re from one of those ‘poorer’ countries is that you get better at seeing past the bullshit that politicians try to feed you as caviar.

I don’t give a fuck that some stupid celebrity bought sex from a woman. What I care is that a woman has had her pictures posted over the internet without her consent, people been writing about her and on her page to the point her ad has been deleted, she might have had her money confiscated by the cops and worse case scenario might be on a detention center waiting to be sent back home, and all this without seeing one single cent from all the people who fill pages, screen time and their own pockets thanks to her. Is that man really the only one that has taken advantage of her?

I know some people will react to this with the eternal, ‘but what if she’s a victim of trafficking?!’ My answer is: I wholeheartedly hope she’s not. And I hope that everyone who seems so worried about that, is actively fighting to improve asylum rights and the trafficking laws in Sweden who barely give any protection to the victims. Stopping trafficking in origin is really really hard, it requires structural changes that we, from foreign countries, don’t have the power to do and shouldn’t take a colonial stance over (deciding what’s best for other countries). The most that we can do is to help victims when they arrive here, and to implement as many measurements as we can to facilitate they can actually access that help. That is done, for example, by strengthening the networks of people selling sex so we can more easily help each other and spot cases of abuse and exploitation.

But something that should also be questioned is why it is so easy for the general population to assume that a migrant person selling sex has been trafficked into the country instead of entering by choice. Regardless where you stand in the whole discussion around ‘free will’ (if such a thing even exists at all), it should be obvious for everyone that there is a clear difference between being directly forced or coerced into selling sex and being forced or having your choice reduced by circumstance. Conflating the two and reducing the full variety of our experiences to a caricature only further disempowers us, by enabling those who already have power to act as they consider necessary to ‘save’ us without even having to talk to us and take us into account.

/Text from a member

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