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Between Scylla and Charybdis: Women’s Labour Migration and Sex Trafficking in the Early Twentieth Century

  • Julia Laite (a1)
Abstract

This article explores the discursive and practical entanglements of women’s work and sex trafficking, in Britain and internationally, in the early twentieth century. It examines discussions about trafficking and women’s work during a period that was instrumental in codifying modern, international conceptions of ‘trafficking’ and argues that porous and faulty borders were drawn between sex work, women’s licit work, and their sexual exploitation and their exploitation as workers. These borders were at their thinnest in discussions about two very important sectors of female-dominated migrant labour: domestic and care work, and work in the entertainment industry. The anti-trafficking movement, the international labour movement, and the makers of national laws and policies, attempted to separate sexual labour from other forms of labour. In doing so, they wilfully ignored or suppressed moments when they obviously intersected, and downplayed the role of other exploited and badly-paid licit work that sustained the global economy. But these attempts were rarely successful: despite the careful navigations of international and British officials, work continued to find its way back into discussions of sex trafficking, and sex trafficking remained entangled with the realities of women’s work.

Julia Laite. Entre Charybde et Scylla. la migration de la main-d’œuvre féminine et la traite sexuelle au début du vingtième siècle.

Cet article étudie les entremêlements discursifs et pratiques du travail des femmes avec la traite sexuelle au début du vingtième siècle au Royaume-Uni et au plan international. Il examine les discussions sur la traite sexuelle et le travail des femmes durant une période déterminante dans la codification des conceptions modernes et internationales de la ‘traite’; il soutient que des frontières perméables, défaillantes furent tracées entre d’une part, le travail du sexe et le travail licite des femmes et d’autre part, leur exploitation sexuelle et leur exploitation en tant que travailleuses. Ces frontières furent les plus ténues dans les discussions sur deux très importants secteurs de la main-d’œuvre migrante majoritairement féminine: le travail domestique et la prestation de soins, et le travail dans l’industrie des loisirs. Le mouvement contre la traite sexuelle, le mouvement syndical international et les décideurs politiques et législateurs nationaux tentèrent de séparer le travail du sexe d’autres formes de travail ; ce faisant, ils ignorèrent ou supprimèrent sciemment des moments auxquels ils étaient manifestement entremêlés, et minimisèrent le rôle d’un autre travail licite exploité et mal payé qui soutenait l’économie mondiale. Toutefois, ces tentatives furent rarement couronnées de succès : malgré les louvoiements prudents des fonctionnaires britanniques et internationaux, le travail continua de se frayer un chemin dans les discussions sur la traite sexuelle, et la traite sexuelle resta entremêlée avec les réalités du travail féminin.

Traduction: Christine Plard

Julia Laite. Zwischen Skylla und Charybdis: Weibliche Arbeitsmigration und Sexhandel im frühen zwanzigsten Jahrhundert.

Der Beitrag erkundet die diskursiven und praktischen Verstrickungen von Frauenarbeit und Sexhandel während des frühen zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts, sowohl in Großbritannien als auch international. Er untersucht Diskussionen um Sexhandel und Frauenarbeit, wie sie während eines Zeitraums geführt wurden, der für die Kodifizierung moderner, internationaler Vorstellungen von “Sexhandel” bestimmend war, und argumentiert dahingehend, dass durchlässige und problematische Grenzen eingezogen wurden zwischen Sexarbeit, der legalen Arbeit von Frauen, der sexuellen Ausbeutung von Frauen und der Ausbeutung von Frauen als Arbeiterinnen. Diese Unterscheidungen kamen dann besonders ins Wanken, wenn es um zwei sehr bedeutende Sektoren weiblich dominierter migrantischer Arbeit ging: Hausarbeit und Pflegearbeit einerseits, und Arbeit im Unterhaltungsgewerbe andererseits. Die Bewegung gegen den Sexhandel, die internationale Arbeiterbewegung und die Urheber nationaler Gesetze und Politiken bemühten sich, Sexarbeit von anderen Formen der Arbeit abzugrenzen. Indem sie dies taten, ignorierten oder verleugneten sie willentlich Fälle, in denen es offenkundig zu Überschneidungen zwischen diesen Bereichen kam; außerdem spielten sie die Rolle herunter, die andere ausgebeutete und schlecht bezahlte, aber legale Arbeit innerhalb der Weltwirtschaft spielte. Diese Versuche waren jedoch nur selten erfolgreich: Trotz der umsichtigen Bemühungen internationaler und britischer Amtsleute, das Thema zu umschiffen, ging es in Diskussionen über den Sexhandel immer wieder auch um Arbeit, und der Sexhandel blieb mit den Realitäten der Frauenarbeit verstrickt.

Übersetzung: Max Henninger

Julia Laite. Entre Escila y Caribdis: la migración de mujeres trabajadoras y el tráfico sexual a comienzos del siglo XX.

En este artículo se exploran las implicaciones, tanto discursivas como prácticas, del trabajo femenino y el tráfico sexual, en Gran Bretaña y en otros países, a comienzos del siglo XX. En él se examinan los debates sobre esta trata y el trabajo de las mujeres durante un periodo que fue clave a la hora de instrumentar en una codificación moderna las concepciones internacionales sobre la ‘trata’. Se plantea que las fronteras existentes entre trabajo sexual, trabajo femenino lícito, y la explotación sexual y su explotación en tanto trabajadoras, son muy porosas e imprecisas. Estos límites tuvieron su más estrecha franja en los debates planteados sobre dos sectores muy importantes de trabajo migrante en el que las mujeres eran dominantes: el trabajo doméstico y asistencial, y el trabajo en la industria del entretenimiento. El movimiento anti-trata, el movimiento obrero internacional, y los hacedores de políticas y leyes nacionales, intentaron establecer una diferencia nítida entre trabajo sexual y otras formas de trabajo. Pero en la práctica ignoraron o suprimieron de forma obstinada todos aquellos espacios de intersección compartidos de forma obvia por lo uno y lo otro, y menospreciaron el papel que jugaban otras formas de trabajo lícitas mal retribuidas y explotadas que sostenían la economía global. Estos intentos de establecer una relación entre unas y otras formas de trabajo resultaron infructuosos. A pesar de las cuidadosas maniobras de los funcionarios internacionales y británicos, el tema del trabajo seguía formando parte de las discusioness sobre tráfico sexual, y la trata continuó vinculada con las realidades del trabajo femenino.

Traducción: Vicent Sanz Rozalén

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E-mail: j.laite@bbk.ac.uk
References
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1 For further discussion of these popular images, see Schreiber, Rachel, “Before Their Makers and Their Judges: Prostitutes and White Slaves in the Political Cartoons of the ‘Masses’ (New York, 1911–1917)”, Feminist Studies, 35 (2009), pp. 161193 .

2 Scylla and Charybdis were two female sea monsters in Greek mythology, best known for ship-wrecking Odysseus. They are understood as metaphors for navigational hazards in the Strait of Messina, one a rocky shoal or cliff, the other a whirlpool. It was a common idiomatic expression in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and appeared frequently in art and political cartoons. Today, the idiom is more commonly expressed as “between a rock and hard place” or “between the devil and the deep blue sea”. “Scylla and Charybdis”. Encyclopædia Britannica, available at

http://www.britannica.com/topic/Scylla-and-Charybdis, last accessed 5 November 2015.

3 For Britain, see, for instance, Bartley, Paula, Prostitution: Prevention and Reform in England, 1860–1914 (London, 2000) Bartley, Paula, Prostitution: Prevention and Reform in England, 1860–1914 (London, 2000) ; Julia Laite, Common Prostitutes and Ordinary Citizens: Commercial Sex in London, 1885–1960 (Basingstoke, 2011); Walkowitz, Judith R., Prostitution and Victorian Society: Women, Class and the State (Cambridge, 1980).

4 Pliley, Jessica, Policing Sexuality: The Mann Act and the Making of the FBI (Cambridge, MA, 2014); Guy, Donna J., Sex & Danger in Buenos Aires: Prostitution, Family, and Nation in Argentina (London, 1991); idem White Slavery and Mothers Alive and Dead: The Troubled Meeting of Sex, Gender, Public Health, and Progress in Latin America (London, 2000). Brian Donovan, White Slave Crusades: Race, Gender, and Anti-Vie Activism 1887–1917 (Urbana, IL and Chicago, IL 2006); Walkowitz, Judith R., City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London (London, 1992); Irwin, Mary Ann, “White Slavery as Metaphor: The Anatomy of A Moral Panic”, Ex Post Facto: The History Journal, X (1996), n.p.

5 Barbara Metzger, “Towards an International Human Rights Regime during the Interwar Years; the League of Nations’ Combat of Traffic in Women and Children”, Beyond Sovereignty: Britain, Empire and Transnationalism, c.1880–1950 (Basingstoke>, 2007), pp. 54–79. Gorman, Daniel, “Empire, Internationalism, and the Campaign against the Traffic in Women and Children in the 1920s”, Twentieth Century British History, 19:2 (2008), pp. 186–216, 215216 .

6 Knepper, Paul, The Invention of International Crime: A Global Issue in the Making, 1881–1914 (Basingstoke, 2010), pp. 23 .

7 Stephanie A. Limoncelli, “The Politics of Trafficking: The First International Movement to Combat the Traffic in Women, 1875–1960” (Ph.D., University of California, 2007); Pliley, Jessica, “Claims to Protection: The Rise and Fall of Feminist Abolitionism in the League of Nations’ Committee on the Traffic in Women and Children, 1919–1936”, Journal of Women’s History, 22 (2010), pp. 90113 ; García, Magaly Rodríguez, “The League of Nations and the Moral Recruitment of Women”, International Review of Social History, 57 (2012), pp. 97128 .

8 Boris, Eileen and Berg, Heather, “Protecting Virtue, Erasing Labour”, in Kimberly Kay Hoang and Rachel Salazar Parrenas (eds), Human Trafficking Reconsidered: Rethinking the Problem, Envisioning New Solutions (New York, 2014), pp. 7681 .

9 It joins a small but growing body of scholarship on trafficking in different national contexts: Jessica Pliley has examined the national context of anti-trafficking policy in the United States, in which discussions about white slavery were inflected with race and immigration politics, affected by a web of federal and state laws, and informed by the specific nature of American socialism and feminism. Pliley, Jessica, Policing Sexuality: The Mann Act and the Making of the FBI (Cambridge, MA, 2014). A forthcoming article by Kate Marsh explores the highly imperfect way that local police in Le Havre, France responded to anti-trafficking directives in the early years of the century. “‘La nouvelle activité des trafiquants de femmes’. France, Le Havre and the Politics of Trafficking, 1919–39”, Contemporary European History, forthcoming (2016). Stephen Legg looks at the role of the League in pressuring colonial Indian Authorities to seem like they were addressing the problem of trafficking, but little else has been written looking at the way in which the interwar anti-trafficking movement was applied by colonial authorities in imperial spaces. Legg, Stephen, “Stimulation, Segregation and Scandal: Geographies of Prostitution Regulation in British India, between Registration (1888) and Suppression (1923)”, Modern Asian Studies, 46 (2012), pp. 14591505 .

10 Boris, Eileen, Home to Work: Motherhood and the Politics of Industrial Homework in the United States (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 7080 ; Keire, Mara L, “The Vice Trust: A Reinterpretation of the White Slavery Scare in the United States, 1907–1917”, Journal of Social History, 35 (2001), pp. 541 ; Gunther Peck, “Feminizing White Slavery in the United States, Marcus Braun and the Transnational Traffic in White Bodies, 1890–1910”, in Leon Fink (ed.), Workers Across the Americas: The Transnational Turn in Labor History (Oxford, 2011), pp. 222–241.

11 Soderlund, Gretchen, Sex Trafficking, Scandal, and the Transformation of Journalism, 1885–1917 (Chicago, IL and London, 2013), p. 3 . Keire makes a similar argument, but credits British journalist Alfred Dyer, writing some six years earlier, rather than Stead. Keire, “The Vice Trust”, p. 7.

12 Peck, “Feminizing White Slavery”, p. 222.

13 There are various explanations for this change, and it did stir up some controversy at the time. Knepper, The Invention of International Crime (Basingstoke, 2010), pp. 2–3.

14 McKeown, Adam, “How the Box Became Black: Brokers and the Creation of the Free Migrant”, Pacific Affairs, 85 (2012), pp. 2146 , 24–25.

15 Ibid., p. 29.

16 On the invention of “free labour” see Brass, Tom and Linden, Marcel van (eds), Free and Unfree Labour: The Debate Continues (London, 1997). On this debate in relation to migration and trafficking, see McKeown, Adam M., Melancholy Order: Asian Migration and the Globalization of Borders (New York and Chichester, 2008).

17 Jill Jensen and Eileen Boris, The ILO: Women's Networks and the Making of the Women Worker (Alexandria, VA, 2015) https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity|bibliographic_details|2476919. Accessed November 15, 2016.

18 Soderlund, Sex Trafficking, Scandal, and the Transformation of Journalism, pp. 3–4.

19 Peck, Gunther, Reinventing Free Labor: Padrones and Immigrant Workers in the North American West, 1880–1930 (Cambridge, 2000), p. 8 .

20 Shaw, George Bernard, “The Root of the White Slave Traffic”, The Awakener, November (1912), pp. 69 , 7; Emma Goldman, “The Traffic in Women”, in Anarchism and Other Essays, Second Rev. (New York and London, 2011), pp. 183–200, 184.

21 For a recent collection of essays on the influence and activities of the ILO, see Jasmien Van Daele (ed.), ILO Histories: Essays on the International Labour Organization and Its Impact on the World during the Twentieth Century (Oxford, 2010).

22 Chaumont, Jean-Michel, Le mythe de la traite des blanches. Enquête sur la fabrication d’un fléau (Paris, 2009); Knepper, The Invention of International Crime: A Global Issue in the Making, 1881–1914 (Basingstoke, 2010); Limoncelli, “The Politics of Humanitarianism”; Pliley, “Claims to Protection”.

23 Boris and Jensen, “The ILO: Women’s Networks and Making of the Women Worker”, n.p.

24 Ibid.

25 Ibid.

26 Pliley, “Claims to Protection”; Limoncelli, “The Politics of Humanitarianism”.

27 “Report of the Special Body of Experts on the Traffic in Women and Children”, C. 52. M. (Geneva: League of Nations, 1927), p. 23.

28 League of Nations, Advisory Committee on the Traffic in Women and Children (hereafter Advisory Committee), Report on the Work of the 16th Session, C.221. m. 60. 1927.IV. Earlier draft notes C.T.F.E.347, in League of Nations registry files 1919–1927, 12/60935/58719–12/63839/60699 box 704.

29 Eileen Boris, “Making the Woman Worker: Labor Standards for the World, 1919-2019”, chapter 1, manuscript in process.

30 For a small selection of the significant number of well-known studies that connected women’s prostitution to women’s work, especially to domestic service, in the early twentieth century in Britain, see Chesterton, Mary, Women of the Underworld (London, 1928), p. 171 ; Ellis, Havelock, Studies in the Psychology of Sex: Volume 6: Sex in Relation to Society (Philadelphia, PA, 1920), p. 294 ; Higgs, Mary, Glimpses into the Abyss (London, 1906) pp. 196231 ; Mrs. C Neville Rolphe, “Sex-Delinquency”, in Hubert Llewellyn Smith (ed.), The New Survey of London Life and Labour (London, 1935), IX, pp. 302–303. Maude Royden, ed., Downward Paths: An Inquiry into the Causes Which Contribute to the Making of the Prostitute (London, 1916), pp. 34–35, 65–69; Constance Tite, “Is Rescue Work a Failure?”, The Shield 3: 3 (October 1916), pp. 168–170, 169.

31 Neilans to Dr. Schaetzel, 16 Dec 1927, London, The Women’s Library, 3/AMS/B/11/02, p. 3.

32 These were often to be found in the same studies that recognized the role that underpaid and difficult licit labour played in women getting involved in prostitution. See also, Hall, Gladys Mary, Prostitution: A Survey and a Challenge (London, 1933), ch. 1.

33 Similarly, Rodríguez García can find no trace of this issue being taken up by the ILO. As she notes, Stanley Cohen, the British representative for the Jewish Association for the Protection of Women and Girls, felt it generated economic questions beyond the purview of the committee. Rodríguez García, “The League of Nations and the Moral Recruitment of Women”, pp. 122–123.

34 See “individual cases, 1928–1933”, Advisory Committee, League of Nations registry files, 16/12/3048 box 627.

35 Boris, Home to Work, pp. 70–80.

36 For campaigns to decriminalize street solicitation see Laite, Julia Ann, “The Association for Moral and Social Hygiene, Abolitionism, and Prostitution Law in Britain, 1915–1959”, Women’s History Review, 17 (2008), pp. 207223 .

37 Boris and Berg, “Protecting Virtue, Erasing Labour”, p. 26.

38 Rodríguez García, “The League of Nations and the Moral Recruitment of Women”, p. 125.

39 Bailey, Peter, “Parasexuality and Glamour: The Victorian Barmaid as Cultural Prototype”, Gender and History, 2 (1990), pp. 148173 ; Davis, Tracy C., “Actresses and Prostitutes in Victorian London”, Theatre Research International, 13 (1988), pp. 221234 .

40 For more on the South American entertainment circuit and the question of women’s labour, see Schettini, Christina, “South American Tours: Work Relations in the Entertainment Market in South America”, International Review of Social History, 57, Special Issue 20 (2012), pp. 122137 .

41 Most efforts consisted of regulating the advertisements for employment agencies, not the agencies themselves. Knepper, The Invention of International Crime, p. 123.

42 Advisory Committee, Report of the First Session, CTFE 103, 1922 IV, Geneva, 21 June 1922, League of Nations Registry Files, box 663.

43 Berg to the Advisory Committee, 26 September 1927, League of Nations Registry Files, box 663.

44 “Memorandum for the bill to register all employment agencies, to limit commission that agents can draw, and to prevent the sharing of commission between the agent and the manager”, 1928. In National Vigilance Association files, London, The Women’s Library, 4NVA/4/07/01 FL100.

45 “The Chorus Girls’ Charter”, Daily Telegraph, 15 January 1929.

46 House of Lords Debate on the Children (Employment Abroad) Act, Lords Sitting of Thursday, 31 October 1929. Session: 1929–30, Hansard, George V year 20, vol. 75, columns 355–370.

47 Ibid.

48 Report of the Select Committee Part II (1927), p. 34.

49 Anderson, Amanda, Tainted Souls and Painted Faces: The Rhetoric of Fallenness in Victorian Culture (Ithaca, NY and London, 1993).

50 See fn. 34.

51 International Labour Office, “The Moral Protection of Young Women Workers”, in League of Nations Advisory Committee on Social Questions (ed.), Prevention of Prostitution: A Study of the Measures Adopted or Under Consideration Particularly with Regard to Minors (Geneva, 1943), pp. 67–105, 83.

52 For the connections between women’s migration, imperialism, and domestic service, see the ground-breaking work in Victoria K. Haskins and Claire Lowrie, eds, Colonization and Domestic Service: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (London, 2015) and Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk, Silke Neunsinger, and Dirk Hoerder, “Domestic Workers of the World: Histories of Domestic Work as Global Labor History”, in Dirk Hoerder et al.(eds), Towards a Global History of Domestic and Caregiving Workers (Amsterdam, 2015), pp. 1–12; Dirk Hoerder, “Historical Perspectives on Domestic and Care-Giving Workers’ Migrations: A Global Approach’, in Hoerder, et al., Towards a Global History of Domestic and Caregiving Workers, (Amsterdam, 2015), pp. 61–111.

53 Jan Gothard, Blue China: Single Female Migration to Colonial Australia (Melbourne, 2001), pp. 19, 21, 25, 187–202. For another example of sponsored migration programmes for British migrant domestic servants, see Chilton, Lisa, Agents of Empire: British Female Migration to Canada and Australia, 1860–1930 (Toronto, 2007). Haskins and Lowrie, Colonization and Domestic Service: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (London, 2015).

54 Note from James Chuter Ede, 18 January 1923, London, The National Archives, LAB 2/1187/EDAR2190/2/1921.

55 Note from Cyril Joad, 16 June 1919, London, The National Archives, LAB 2/1187/EDAR2190/2/1921.

56 Frank Caestecker and Bob Moore, “Female Domestic Servants as Desirable Refugees: Gender, Labour Needs and Immigration Policy in Belgium, The Netherlands and Great Britain”, European History Quarterly 41:2 (2011), pp. 213–230, 220. This mirrors a current debate about a recent change in UK domestic service visa policies, which have, according to recent reports, dramatically increased the trafficking of servants into and within the UK. “Calls to Change Overseas Domestic Worker Visa Conditions”, House of Commons Research Briefings, 29 December 2015, available at http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN04786, last accessed on 22 January 2016.

57 For more on current issues with domestic workers in Britain, see Cox, Rosie, The Servant Problem: Paid Domestic Work in a Global Economy (London, 2006).

58 For more on the development and growth of the NVA and the International Bureau for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children, see Attwood, Rachael, “‘Stopping the Traffic: The National Vigilance Association and the International Fight against the “White Slave” Trade (1899– c.1909)”, Women’s History Review, 24 (2015), pp. 325350 .

59 “Employment Agencies”, National Vigilance Association Files, London, The Women’s Library, 4NVA/4/07/04, Box FL099; 4IBS/3/1/01 Box FL193.

60 F.R. Sempkins, “From the Distressed Areas to Worse: Daughters of Despair”, 2 March 1935, Tit Bits, NVA files, White Slavery Clippings, London, The Women’s Library, 4NVA/4/34/1 Box FL110.

61 F.R. Sempkins, “Why North Girls Disappear”, Sunday Sun, 10 December 1933, NVA files, White Slavery Clippings, London, The Women’s Library, 4NVA/4/34/1 Box FL110.

62 Magaly Rodríguez García, “Child Slavery, Sex Trafficking or Domestic Work? The League of Nations and its Analysis of the Mui Tsai System”, in Hoerder et al., Towards a Global History of Domestic and Caregiving Workers, pp. 428–450.

63 International Labour Office, “The Moral Protection of Young Women Workers”, p. 70.

64 Ibid., p. 67.

65 Ibid., pp. 91–104.

66 Ibid., p. 84.

67 Ibid., p. 94.

68 Laite, Common Prostitutes and Ordinary Citizens, pp. 130–160.

69 Robinson, Lillian S., “Sexe et villes. La prostitution à l’ère des migrations mondiales”, Travail, Capital et Societe, 39:2 (2006), pp. 4877 , 64–65.

70 The recent resolution by Amnesty International supporting the decriminalization of sex work has signalled a major change in international discourse on this subject. At the time of writing, however, it is too early to say the degree to which it will mark a sea change in international and British discussions of prostitution and work, and trafficking and women’s migrant labour. “Global Movement Votes to Adopt Policy to Protect Human Rights of Sex Workers”, Amnesty International Latest News, 11 August 2015, available at www.amnesty.org, last accessed on 3 December 2015.

71 Davidson, Julia O’Connell, “New Slavery, Old Binaries: Human Trafficking and the Borders of ‘freedom’”, Global Networks, 10 (2010), pp. 244261 , 256.

72 Bernstein, Elizabeth, “Militarized Humanitarianism Meets Carceral Feminism: The Politics of Sex, Rights, and Freedom in Contemporary Antitrafficking Campaigns”, Signs, 36 (2010), pp. 4571 , 50.

73 Peck, “Feminizing White Slavery”, p. 234.

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