The Weblight-District : a study of how women use the internet to work independently as sex workers, their investments in this kind of work, and the challenges this poses

Van Rooi, Wildo Alvir (2014-04)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2014.


ENGLISH ABSTRACT: One of the characteristics of discourses about people who are marginalised such as sex workers, in many societies, is the way they are rendered through these very discourses as "Other‟ through, for example, forms of generalisation and homogenisation, attributions of immorality and infantilisation, which construct sex workers as bad or as helpless victims with little or no agency. In opposition to these discourses, my research is primarily concerned with advancing the voices of sex workers engaged in particular contemporary forms of sex work made possible by the access to the internet, and exploring with them how they construct and experience sex work: how they present and identify themselves. A qualitative, netnographic methodology influenced by grounded theory was employed, drawing extensively on semi-structured interviews with 15 independent escorts who advertise on a South African escorting website, referred to as Content analysis of this website provided an additional source of data. The construction of the sex worker as someone who is simply controlled and exploited by others and who has no mind of her or his own, I found, was very much at odds with the manner through which the independent escorts in my study presented themselves. As I started conducting the interviews, I discovered that even the term "sex worker‟, which I had always understood as non-judgmental, was considered inappropriate and pejorative by most of the women in my study. In my discussion, I illustrate how, by soliciting clients via the internet, escorts are able to gain control over their working conditions allowing them to work independently and anonymously, which in turn renders them less publicly visible compared to other sex workers who solicit clients form the street. While I identify various continuities and discontinuities between independent escorting and other forms of sex work, the most profound and unanticipated difference was how some independent escorts whose independence and dissociation from organised forms of sex work in institutions such as brothels or escorts, placed them in a position where they were able to, and wanted to, present the "girlfriend experience‟. Herein the independent escorts performed and/or became like girlfriends offering sex, but sex mediated by "dating‟, and expressions of care and warmth symbolically associated with developing girlfriend/boyfriend relations.

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