Bothered by a brothel? How sex work can improve your neighbourhood

Paul Maginn (@planographer) and I recently wrote this article in The Conversation – read the full version here – based on my doctoral research.  You can find more information about the project in this article: http://sex.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/05/27/1363460715616949.abstract

Bothered by a brothel? How sex work can improve your neighbourhood

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Dr Emily Cooper (University of Central Lancashire)
Assoc. Prof. Paul Maginn (University of Western Australia)

The sex industry, specifically sex work and prostitution, has long been perceived and regulated as a “dirty and disorderly” feature of residential communities. The stereotypical, and unfair, view of sex workers is that they are vectors of disease and social contagions; it’s a moral hangover from the Victorians.

Regardless of their legal status, wider society still tends to stigmatise those who provide commercial sexual services, with street-based sex workers often most the subject of public, political and police scrutiny. This is reflected in the regulation and marginalisation of sex work by local and national government policies to dark and secluded areas of cities.

This marginalisation and stigmatisation is because many people’s knowledge and understanding of sex work is generally limited and informed by moral panics and stereotypes – particularly surrounding issues such as STI rates and trafficking. While it is important to recognise that such problems may occur in sex work, it is also important to stress that these are not experienced by the majority of those engaged in consensual sex work and should certainly not be portrayed as being the most important factor in all sex worker narratives.

Nevertheless, local councils and police forces periodically engage in “clean-up” campaigns that seek to purge local areas of sex work. The police raids in Soho during December 2013, when around 200 police targeted dozens of premises, have been one of the most high-profile examples of this strategy.

Such raids are generally justified by the media and local authorities on the basis that locals, especially women and children, need to be protected from the harmful effects of “sleaze”.

Interestingly, however, there has been little detailed or systematic research on the impacts of sex work on residential communities. Generally speaking, local authority “clean-up” strategies tend to be based not on science, but on a small number of complaints from a vocal minority who assert particular moral agendas.

The evidence that sex work is a problematic issue is rather limited, but it is clear that sex workers themselves are not considered community members and are rarely consulted about their own concerns and needs. Sex workers are just ordinary people – someone’s mother, aunt, brother, friend – trying to make a living.

Research by Phil Hubbard and colleagues, Penny Crofts, Sarah Kingston, and Emily Cooper’s own work suggests that sex work contributes to residential communities in much more complex ways than is commonly portrayed in the media.

Sarah Kingston’s research on the impact of sex work on residential communities in Leeds highlights that the presence of sex workers can actually generate positive outcomes. For example, they (and associated clients, etc) provide passive surveillance against criminal activities and will report crimes. In addition, sex workers and their clients also contribute to local economies via the renting of premises, booking hotel rooms and spending money in local shops, bars and restaurants.

The Blackpool community

Cooper’s research on massage parlours and surrounding residential communities in Blackpool, reinforces these findings. 53 in-depth interviews were conducted (often more than once) with local residents, as well as a number of sex workers, police officers and council officers. Observations were also made over an 18-month period.

Those parlours surrounded by other non-sex work businesses and residences were often referred to by nearby non-sex work business workers as a means of breaking the ice and building rapport with customers, because of questions asked about the parlours being there. Reputedly, for some residents, the parlours also brightened up the mundane routine of peoples’ daily social and work lives. This was also reinforced in Kingston’s findings.

More crucially, some residents highlighted that the parlours – and their 24-hour vibrantly neon-lit presence – engendered a feeling of security in an area that is commonly frequented by “either nobody or large groups of stag parties, which can be a bit intimidating” (quote from resident).

Such views dismantle the common narrative, which suggests that the sex industry is something that attracts criminality rather than a feeling of security.

The Blackpool Gazette often uses “dirt and disgust” rhetoric to characterise the impact of massage parlours and the subsequent “clean-up” campaigns by regulatory bodies. Despite this, plus the ongoing effects of the recent recession, the massage parlours have shown resilience and remain an integral part of the social and economic fabric of Blackpool.

The stigma and stereotyping that tends to surround sex workers (and their clients) has the effect of alienating them and diminishing their sense of safety when working.

Very few residents in the study explicitly stated that they would like to see the sex industry removed. Those that did so were coming from either a stereotypical view of sex work as being inherently harmful or criminal, or from a desire to protect sex workers, who they considered friends and neighbours, from “dodgy clients”. Many residents discussed spending time with sex workers, as they would with any other neighbour.

Despite the fact that several sex workers in my study area lived locally, the long-established presence of massage parlours in Blackpool, and the friendly relationships between sex workers and wider community members, sex workers were still excluded from certain community spaces.

One sex worker, for example, noted that although she had a good relationship with residents adjacent to her place of work, she and another worker were asked to leave a Police and Community Together meeting by other residents because the meeting was “partly about them”.

Moving forward

Such exclusionary actions merely serve to reinforce the stigma imposed on sex workers and deny them their basic democratic rights. Community-based policy and consultation processes need to be more inclusive and appreciative of the fact that sex workers are as much a part of the local community as the next person. Their presence in and near residential communities needs to be viewed through a wider lens based on evidence, rather than a narrow moral one under the control of a vocal minority.

Emerging research suggests that the role and impact of sex work on local areas is more multi-faceted and less extraordinary than is commonly portrayed in the media or television dramas. The urban mythology and regulatory fetish surrounding sex work needs to be dispelled.

A more productive policy approach to regulating commercial sex premises would be to treat them like any other business. Ultimately, sex work should be decriminalised as this regulatory approach offers what other approaches don’t – it guarantees the greater safety, health and well-being of sex workers.


 

Academic Interviews: #2 and #3

@planographer

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Picture from https://www.pinterest.com/gbmcd/funny-interviewjob/

So I’m a few months into my new(ish) job, which I started at the end of April this year.  Recently, a few of my friends have been applying for academic positions and we’ve been having some great chats about the interview process, so I thought I would add to this post https://ecooper2site.wordpress.com/2015/02/21/my-first-academic-interview/ and talk about my more recent interviews.  That blog post also contains some links to some good blogs/websites I found useful for tips, so give it a look!   Warning: this will be a long post!

So far, my career pathway has consisted of the following:

  1. Graduate teaching assistant in Human Geography at Lancaster University (2009-Feb 2014)
  2. Researcher at Ascentis (May 2014 – December 2014, done alongside my PhD/teaching)
  3. Senior Teaching Associate in Human Geography at Lancaster University (Feb 2014-January 2015)
  4. Lecturer in Human Geography at Northumbria University (January 2015-April 2016) (this is the interview that the above blog post is talking about)
  5. Lecturer in Human Geography at UCLan  (April 2016-present)

Whilst in my position at Northumbria, I also underwent an interview for the permanent version of that role, so I will discuss this process first.

 

Interview #2: applying for the position you are already doing

This was a really strange experience for me, as you a) feel a wally for having to stand up in front of colleagues who already know you and try and promote your achievements, and b) you don’t quite know how much to push the detail, as the panel (in my case anyway) generally have a really good idea already of what you do.  I decided to go for it and pretend I was still a new colleague.  The danger of not doing so means you potentially lose the enthusiasm and the examples, which definitely matter in setting yourself apart from other candidates. My presentation task was exactly the same format as in the blog post above (15 minutes on ‘my research and teaching contributions to Geography at Northumbria’), with the odd obvious tweaks to also show what I had already done/made changes to regarding teaching content and research culture – and what I intended to do for the next year.  Here is an example of how I adapted the teaching slide:

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This all went well (so I was told!) and some of the questions from the audience (of about 10 colleagues) were:

  • Aside from UK-based research councils, what other sources of funding can you target with your research? Would bigger players, such as EU money, be a possibility? My answer was yes, perhaps a little later in my career, but that the topics I research – such as sex work – are important for a variety of disciplines and therefore research funding is possible from health, legal, social and humanities perspectives/pots
  • Would you be wanting to investigate issues such as human trafficking in your research? My answer discussed briefly the need to debunk the common assumption that sex work = trafficking, and so it is implicitly part of my research at the moment, but not a key direction for the immediate future
  • What are the policing tactics in Blackpool regarding the brothels – how much do they intervene? I outlined this briefly, but *shameless plug alert* see my new paper for more details: http://sex.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/05/27/1363460715616949)

 

A panel interview then followed, which lasted around 30 minutes.  Preparation for this part of the interview had largely been writing lists of everything I had achieved so far in the department, including:

  1. a) research advances (writing up papers from my thesis; getting involved in the research group in the department; building networks inter and intra-faculty – with specific named examples)
  2. b) teaching achievements (introducing peer reading groups; making slight changes to module assessment; introducing a student Twitter competition; being nominated for ‘best lecturer’ from the student-led teaching awards.  Again, it is important to justify the changes, to show you are a reflective teacher)
  3. c) additional roles undertaken (e.g. I was ethics rep for the department; started a Twitter account in order to promote research/teaching activities; took part in open days)
  4. d) how I had developed as an academic (what skills have advanced; what would I like to improve on, e.g. PhD supervisor training)

Here were some of the questions asked (I won’t put my answers for all of them):

  • Why do you want the job; to continue your career here? I gave 3 reasons – one, outlining how I felt I had carved my own place in the department, but had still slotted into the research and teaching roles effectively (I gave a couple of examples about why I felt I had done so quickly); two, I briefly discussed the networks I had built for possible research collaboration and a little about the projects I had in mind with such colleagues; three, a personal reason
  • What is unique about you – why should we give you the job? This was probably the most tricky question for me, as I didn’t want to come across as arrogant.  I discussed the social media presence I had built and the new ways I had tried to get students to engage with the department and module content (e.g. a Twitter competition, with a prize for the best tweet about the fieldtrip module content); and my push for more independent learning skills being built into the programme.  I also discussed my additional roles (that I had voluntarily worked open days, and taken on admin roles such as ethics rep etc).
  • What would you say your best paper is/the paper you are most proud of? I changed my answer from when they asked me this last time, to discuss a new paper I was working on
  • Could you tell us about your next journal article submissions – why these have been targeted? In the end, the journals I was planning for submission were not deemed high quality enough for me to secure the permanent contract, according to the measures they were looking at – the Web of Science journal citation list – so be wary of this
  • What key issues does your research speak to, or your future research? Think about discipline-specific issues, plus wider relevance, and show that you have done your homework on potential impact at a variety of scales (give examples of how your work has begun to tackle said issues, or has the potential to – and why)
  • Where would you target funding applications for the projects you are currently planning (and why)?
  • Can you give an example of your proudest achievement from your teaching experience? What have you contributed so far?
  • What skills have you developed as an academic while working here? I was *very* stumped on this at first, so think about it! I think I discussed the ability for me to know what a journal expected regarding publication, now that I had been through the process once

 

Interview #3: Applying for a lectureship as an external candidate

The application process was again very similar to the outline in my first blog, with a cover letter (included in ‘supporting information’) of a very traditional academic application form, which just asked for CV information, and no additional statements.  If anybody would like to see a copy of my cover letter, please do ask!  When offered an interview (another victory dance ensued!!), the letter stated that the format would be:

–          A 5 minute (this was SO difficult!) presentation on your research as if part of a lecture for first-year geography students

–          A panel interview

–          A final interview with the Executive Dean at the end of the day

The presentation

After some assistance from a colleague (the fab @planographer) – and do see if you can get some peer feedback wherever possible! – the 5-minute presentation format was as follows:

Slide 1.  I introduced myself, and explained that the point of the presentation was to discuss my research interests and projects to date. I also said that: ‘But another key take-home message is the diversity of geography as a subject to study and its ability to understand and tackle a variety of social issues’

Slide 2 – I then presented my research interests around these three said issues.  Here is the slide:

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The rationale for the set-up here was that the power of 3 is difficult to beat, especially for first-years, and that I situated myself as a social geographer; predominantly interested in the connections between society, and space and place.  I then explained how my research slots into these 3 themes and then gave a very quick summary of my findings (slide 3), with some photos and a slide (4) on ‘what’s next’ (keeping this to two boxes – and taking care to relate this back to why geography is a great subject to study).  Again, if anybody would like to see the full thing then please just ask.  I was only asked questions from the audience about the research itself, relating to how many parlours there are in Blackpool, and policing strategies.

 

The panel interview

This included the associate head of school, the head of geography, a lecturer from a different school and a HR representative.  Here are as many of the questions (and answers!) that I can remember:

  • Why do you want the job? (a commonality across all 3 – so prepare this one well!) – again, I gave 3 reasons.  Always name particular research clusters/people you want to work with, identify modules you can contribute to, and I also included reference to how I really felt the ethos of the University spoke to my personal feelings regarding academia and education – such as being committed to widening participation at University (e.g. foundation courses are offered).  Another key thing to not forget is that they want to know what *you* can do for/bring to them, as well as what *they* can do for you (this will certainly be important in later questions).
  • Why should we give you the job/what makes you stand out from the room full of candidates out there in the next room?  I think I gave three reasons again here – one, that I felt that my research complemented several research clusters and would connect geography more readily with other UCLan researchers, both in its own Faculty and outside of it (and how/why this was necessary). I initially just mentioned the research clusters, but they prompted me to give more specific examples.  As part of my preparation, I had already identified 2 individuals who had interests in sex work and community dynamics – so I discussed research projects that had been previously done at UCLan and how my work would be relevant to them/contribute to them. Secondly, I discussed my social media focus, and how I had noticed that the department didn’t have a strong web presence in this regard – and what I had done at my previous institution to improve theirs. Thirdly, I mentioned my past work experience – my CV includes several roles in University administration and I said that I therefore had a good understanding of how Universities work operationally, plus was very aware of the importance of excellent teamwork across the various administrative and academic teams.  This also sent the message that I had juggled several different roles while completing my PhD; something definitely worth mentioning if you have also done so (voluntarily or paid).
  • How is your research impactful? I made sure that I discussed both the local context here – i.e. my doctoral research uncovered some intricate detail about relationships between various agents in the community, and how these relationships could be improved; and the issues with localised regulation of sex work and what can be done to address these) and the national/international context (i.e. contributions to sex work regulation; theorisation of community dynamics more broadly). Looking back, I should have mentioned the ways in which this impact should/could be disseminated going forward (e.g. I am now considering training events, and finding ways of incorporating better quality outreach services to existing organisations)
  • What will it bring to the Faculty/what projects are you working on?  Here, I returned briefly to the previous projects conducted at UCLan, and mentioned my next steps for research (plus what funding I intended to go for, and why).
  • Where do you see yourself in 10 years (this then got changed to 5 after my initial answer)? What contributions do you want to have made in your field? I always struggle with such questions – and I found myself blurting out that being in a temporary contract made it very difficult for me to think as far ahead as 10 years (this is when they switched it to 5!).  What this did do, however, was make me feel like I had made a bit of a personal connection with the panel (or more of one).  So when this got changed to 5, I discussed how I did not think about what I want for the future in job titles (e.g. ‘I want to be a Reader by the time I am …’).

1) I said that I wanted to have a paper out (or at least in press!) in Progress in Human Geography.

2) I hoped that I would be nearing completion of my next big post-doctorate project (I reiterated the details briefly of what project this would be)

3) I hoped that I was continually inspired by academia and the value of geography as a subject– so my final goal was to have carved my place at UCLan as a respected teacher, and to have seen off 5 rounds of happy, enthusiastic and successful geography students.  A little cheesy, but genuine!

  • What stage are you at with writing up publications from your thesis?  Bear in mind the panel often has your CV in front of them, so make sure you know what dates you have put down as predicted submission!! This was a straight forward question – but one paper had been delayed since submission of my application and so I was also honest about the reason.
  • You had a lot of teaching experience at your previous places of employment seemingly, with some considerable responsibility – how did you find managing the teaching load? This was a fairly generic managing workload question, so I mentioned my strategies for doing so, including: lots of colour-coded lists with deadlines on them, ensuring good working relationships with GTAs and the rest of the academic staff by having regular meetings and making use of the VLE, and setting myself small goals on a daily basis.  Anything novel for managing deadlines/workload is worth a mention – especially if it enables a bit of humour!  I love stationery shopping and so I’m sure I mentioned this obsession.
  • What teaching content would you introduce here? Always go prepared with material you could potentially contribute to what already exists – and what new module content/modules you would introduce and why.  Remember, key things on the minds of departments are employability and research-led teaching!
  • What do you do to make your classes interesting? I discussed my in-class quiz questions, my strategy of ten-minute intervals (i.e. every 10 minutes, I switch the tone of a lecture, ranging from me talking, to them thinking about a question, to having a two minute break, to getting them to work on something in pairs etc), and including guest speakers/little snippets of research stories.  I also said my general teaching ethos is do ‘anything to make the material relatable’ (which has involved me, rather embarrassingly, dressing up as an example!)
  • How do you incorporate research-led teaching into your modules/sessions? I always make a point of including research examples from staff in-house in my teaching, as well as my own, and I invite guest speakers working on key research projects.
  • What sort of support do you feel you would need from HR/the University in order to succeed in your academic roles? Rather a personal question, but I said that I would appreciate guidance on applying for research grants as I haven’t been a PI on a post-doc project yet.  I also mentioned that I would want some training on being a PhD supervisor.

Finally, the interview with the executive dean was largely, I was told afterwards, to clarify the research plans I had and to see if I was somebody that would fit into the Faculty/department.  I’m happy to say I got the job!

 

Tricky Trickster Questions

As an additional contribution to the bank of potential interview questions above, I did a bit of a social media survey on ‘what is the trickiest question you have been asked at interview?’ from my colleagues.  Here were their responses:

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Another response to my call was: ‘I asked a question to stump the panel’ – this candidate had done some homework on a relevant new government circular, and they asked what the panel thought this might mean for the area (the panel hadn’t heard of it!).

Many thanks to all who contributed! I hope this post has been helpful rather than terrifying for potential candidates, and do ask me for any additional clarification 🙂

Here’s hoping I’ll be seeing lots of victory dances from successful candidates in the near future!

 

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Gif from http://giphy.com/gifs/dance-fresh-prince-of-bel-air-IJBIpMtVD7yla

‘Being an Early Career Feminist Academic: Global perspectives, experiences and challenges’. New edited collection (Palgrave MacMillan)

I’m very excited to announce the impending publication of this fantastic edited collection, put together by Dr Rachel Thwaites (@REThwaites) and Dr Amy Pressland (@a_pressland).  Here is a description of the content taken from Palgrave’s website:

‘This book highlights the experiences of feminist early career researchers and teachers from an international perspective in an increasingly neoliberal academy. It offers a new angle on a significant and increasingly important discussion on the ethos of higher education and the sector’s place in society. Higher education is fast-changing, increasingly market-driven, and precarious. In this context entering the academy as an early career academic presents both challenges and opportunities. Early career academics frequently face the prospect of working on fixed term contracts, with little security and no certain prospect of advancement, while constantly looking for the next role. Being a feminist academic adds a further layer of complexity: the ethos of the marketising university where students are increasingly viewed as ‘customers’ may sit uneasily with a politics of equality for all. Feminist values and practice can provide a means of working through the challenges, but may also bring complications’.

Dr Anna Tarrant (@dratarrant) and I contributed a chapter to the collection, entitled: Exposing the ‘Hidden Injuries’ of Feminist Early Career Researchers: An Experiential Think Piece about Maintaining Feminist Identities.  Our chapter covers some of the difficulties we have faced as early career feminist academics in the current academic climate, and how we have collectively found positive ways to navigate though these and ‘heal’.  We are among great company – the contributions are fantastic.  Find out more details here: http://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9781137543240#aboutBook. The flyer with all of the chapter information is also attached below.

Being an Early Career Feminist Academic flyer (1)

Many thanks to Rachel and Amy for being such supportive editors!

 

 

 

 

 

RGS-IBG Geography and Employability Event, 19 May 2016

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Due to marking season, it’s been a few days since I could sit down and write a blog about the fantastic ‘Geography and Employability’ event that was organised by the RGS-IBG (http://www.rgs.org/OurWork/Research+and+Higher+Education/Research+and+Higher+Education+events.htm) for those that couldn’t make it.  I was hopeful that the day would provide some good tips for how to embed employability into degree schemes/extra-curricular activities for our undergraduates and postgraduates – and thankfully the event provided several of these.  I was also lucky enough to bump into the fantastic Prof. Fiona Tweed (@ProfFionaTweed) from Staffordshire University, who was invited to do a presentation at the event (more info to come later) and she kindly agreed to co-write the blog post with me.  So what follows is a collective summary of the event from both of us.

 

‘Geography is in good health!’

Led by Stephanie Wyse and Catherine Souch, we began with a very positive discussion about the popularity of geography in relation to uptake by GCSE/ A Level students in recent years (which was also picked up by the media – e.g. see http://geographical.co.uk/rgs/news/item/625-geography-student-numbers-increase and http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/13/the-guardian-view-on-geography-its-the-must-have-a-level).  Geography at degree level also typically does very well in NSS scores relating to student satisfaction and, according to evaluations (e.g. see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationpicturegalleries/9852535/Ten-recession-proof-degree-subjects.html?frame=2472759), seems to demonstrate a recession-proof strength in relation to employment figures post-graduation.

 

Key findings in recent employability studies

We then discussed the changing policy context for geography and employability – including the well-publicised white paper and Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) – and some recent findings in employability studies. We won’t list them all, but here are some key points:

  • Careers advice needs to be tailored to subject; career options introduced early in studies and reinforced throughout the course
  • Responsibility for improving employment outcomes needs to be shared between HE providers, employers and students – this should be a partnership (both Wakeham/Shadbolt 2016)
  • Many students/graduates are, from the employer’s perspective, unable to make themselves stand out from a crowd
  • Employability offerings by HE providers are considerable and diverse, but students are dissuaded by some offerings (e.g. certain sectors/recruitment channels), and take-up needs to be more strategically timed (early/throughout degree) and targeted by subject/course
  • Employers have relatively limited engagement with HE providers but messages conveyed by employers carry more weight for students (all 3 IEW/IFF Research/QAA 2016)

Of course, the workshop participants also recognised the issues with data capture strategies and, as outlined by the organisers, there is an urgent need for improved longitudinal data about graduate employment.  One of the key messages to come out of the later discussions was that, for geography in particular, routes after graduation often involve the individual becoming a ‘global citizen’ (e.g. by undertaking voluntary roles). Therefore, a significant proportion of geography graduates may not have chosen traditional graduate routes, linked to graduate salaries, which are the measure of success in the alumni capture methods.  Some other key factors affecting the outcomes post-degree are:

  • The potential disparity between student and employer views of ‘graduate preparedness’
  • The changing graduate labour market (regionally and nationally) and the changing nature of employment, alongside the processes by which graduates are matched with graduate jobs
  • The role of universities as intermediaries (before and after graduation): subject-based support, careers services, other interventions

After some discussions of graduate attributes more broadly, we moved on to how geographers specifically are more employable.  Answers from the room included: diversity of contact time (fieldwork, lectures, lab work, seminars) and diversity of assessment (exams, traditional essays, data visualisations, oral presentations, reflexive journals, etc); a breadth of transferable skills (alongside subject-specific skills); a holistic understanding of world issues, which draws on several disciplines; geography is an ethical subject – graduates therefore leave University as global citizens as well as graduates.

 

Developing employable geographers

The event then moved on to a series of presentations offering a range of different approaches by various institutions, which are focused on enhancing employability. We haven’t included everything – what follows is a summary of some of the key messages from each presentation.

‘Re-chartering our employability offering’ – Jonathan Potts (University of Portsmouth)

Jon outlined a series of actions that have been embedded into the geography schemes at Portsmouth as a result of a multi-faceted, applied approach (involving academic and non-academic staff).  Key parts to this plan include:

  • An employability working group, including academic staff, technical staff and students (to brainstorm and roll out strategies)
  • A professional advisory group (consisting of external organisations and alumni students)
  • Employability resources embedded in all units and at all levels of study, including:
  • Introducing new placement (sandwich) degrees for 2016-17
  • Introducing a new ‘Employability for Geographers’ unit at L6 (feedback from students suggests this is also desired at L5). Assessment includes a reflexive journal and a portfolio
  • A dedicated Moodle site (feedback from students did, however, suggest that this was not particularly useful – and so a more social media-based strategy is to be adopted)
  • Guest speakers in units – former students (again emphasising the importance of alumni) and professionals
  • Monopolise key research skills and research contacts of staff!

 

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Related to the final point, another important message – and problem – that was mentioned is that it is often not just the issue of trying to engage students to think about employability that presents barriers; sometimes staff are difficult to get on board.  Similarly, educating employers is also key – so involve them in such strategies wherever possible.

‘Employability day’, or, as they called it (and I really enjoyed!), The ‘Bath Spa Treatment’ – Becky Schaaf (Bath Spa University)

Becky introduced the presentation by explaining why they had introduced an employability day; namely to try and get students to think about what they want to do after their degree and figure out what values are important to them early on (at Level 4).  This was a non-compulsory day (although, as attendance was outlined as an issue, making the day compulsory is being considered).  Below are some of the activities included:

  • A reflective skills/values audit with paired discussions
  • Discussions around what is possible in their subject, and from students as individuals
  • Relatedly, making students think about the ‘you-shaped’ hole in employment opportunities; what is unique about them and how to sell this in applications and interviews
  • A creativity/enterprise activity involving being given data from a local council to develop an idea to improve the community – with a prize for the best idea. This activity encouraged students to use data in a creative way (and enables creativity to be seen as more than just art and design – including how to apply this to a professional environment) in order to solve problems. This idea was then mapped out onto a business canvas and pitched back to the group; another key skill
  • The feedback was very positive, with all participants saying they would recommend the event
  • Issues – this was not subject specific, so the presenters discussed the possibility of making this solely a geographical-based event

‘Alumni Networking Events’ – Kean Fan Lim (University of Nottingham)

Co-coordinated with the careers office, Kean outlined the alumni network events that University of Nottingham run for Geography. He mentioned how key the events team were for promoting such events (weekly bulletins), and that the Geography society were also involved in promotion.  The events are run as follows:

    • Informal setting, usually in a pub (and with a budget – for one drink on the house!)
    • 7-8 alumni students from different sectors and at different career stages are invited
    • Speed-dating set-up, with students moving round each visiting alumni
    • Informal setting meant that students felt relaxed, could talk honestly and openly about their experiences, and ask questions
    • Around 70 attendees at the last one, indicating a positive response

 

‘The Geography Undergraduate Research Assistantship Module – Fiona Tweed (Staffordshire University)

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Fiona outlined the introduction of a research assistantship module into geography degree schemes; this module originated as a research-engaged learning exercise. While it still operates as such, she emphasised the benefits of such a module as an employability tool– enabling students to gain valuable research assistant experience, to ‘demystify’ the research environment for them, and to make them stand out in an interview panel.  Fiona also noted the broader benefits for academics – such a process boosts research culture in a department and makes students feel more included.  A brief overview of the format is below:

  • The module is for Level 6 (3rd year) and totals 150 learning hours, which can be spread over one or two semesters
  • Assessment comprises an oral presentation and a reflective report, including a work diary
  • Projects are advertised and students apply for them, providing a CV and cover letter. Students’ skills and aptitudes were assessed against the requirements of the post, as they would be in an ordinary employment situation. Interviews then take place, should decisions not be made from the written process alone.

A more comprehensive outline can be found in:

 

The journal article (Tweed and Boast, 2011) also discusses how the module was evaluated – namely by two key measures: student performance and student/staff/client feedback.  Students generally perform very well, with upper second and first class marks gained for the module – and, most significantly, excellent research outputs are often produced.  Feedback contained a plethora of very positive responses from students relating to the depth of the knowledge in specialist subjects gained; the research, presentation and organisational skills that were enhanced; and their belief that the module had enhanced their employability.  Staff reported that they felt the assistantships allowed the reinvigoration of their research, plugged a gap in resources and acted as a spring-board for future grant applications.  Client feedback included in the article described the impactful student projects, the more effective consolidation of working relationships between academia and external clients, and enabling clients to conduct research where only limited resources are available.   Overall, the module has multiple benefits for multiple stakeholders.

 

‘Bristol Q-Step Degrees’ – Rich Harris (University of Bristol)

Rich began by highlighting that, generally, quantitative analysis aptitude is poor for social science students. Bristol Q-step is, he outlined is, ‘part of a £19.5 million initiative designed to promote a step-change in quantitative social science training in the UK. A set of three (B.Sc.) and four year (M.Sci.) degree programmes are offered, with a shared cross-disciplinary pathway designed to boost confidence in analysing, presenting and interpreting quantitative data, as well as promoting understanding of quantitative social science’.  Examples include BSc/MSci Geography with quantitative research methods – with the latter deliberately being tagged in the degree title to emphasise its presence.  The QAA statement for Geography, he stated, clearly emphasises the need for numeracy and numerical skills, for attention to spatial statistics and scale, and to being able to use a range of statistical data collection and analysis strategies.

Rich outlined that students are taught there is more to quantitative geography than ‘just numbers’; they are shown how to turn quantitative data into useable formats, to do creative things with it, and to communicate it effectively.  Importantly, this strategy is also very much about employability – Rich draw from this report http://www.niesr.ac.uk/publications/state-nation-review-evidence-supply-and-demand-quantitative-skills#.V0iGzWf2aUk which reviewed the evidence on current levels of demand for quantitative skills (QS) from employers the UK, and the extent to which this demand is matched by supply. This clearly showed an increase from 1997 to more recent years in the levels of which more advanced maths/stats skills are considered essential/important for candidates. Rich was not making a case for quantitative methods to be the only relevant aspect of a degree; rather he was highlighting the need to reinvigorate them in geography degree schemes, keeping the view of the holistic discipline that covers several methodological bases in mind.

 

Finally

The event finished with a series of very short, sharp presentations on what the RGS-IBG offers to complement such strategies in degree schemes. These include:

 

The appendix of the handout also contained an executive summary of the fabulous project undertaken by Dr Anna Laing (@AnnaFLaing) while she was a Research Associate at Northumbria University, entitled ‘Embedding Employability in the Geography Department’.  This included several tips for departments to research the effectiveness of their employability strategies, alongside some important findings.  Contact Anna for more information.

Overall, the event was a great way to share ideas and best practice, alongside prompting some really positive discussions about why we all think Geography is such a great subject to study and teach. It was thoroughly enjoyable and we highly recommend similar events.

Call for Interest: UCLan Collective Writing Events

 

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Calling all PhD students and early career researchers/lecturers!  Fancy taking part in some collective writing activities?  Are you wanting to finally finish *that* PhD chapter, get an article sent off, work on a job application, finish preparing a seminar presentation – or simply fancy sharing tips, successes or woes with peers?

My name is Emily and I am a recently appointed Lecturer in Human Geography at UCLan.  As a part-time PhD student (and now as an early career lecturer) I found collective writing days/retreats really therapeutic and productive, and they were very popular at my previous institutions.  These events can take several forms, with the main ones being:

  • Short ‘#shutupandwrite’ sessions (ranging from an hour, to a full morning or afternoon) involving blocks of quiet writing, with scheduled breaks for refreshments and sharing progress (check out @suwtuk, #acwri, #suwt and #diysuwt for where the idea came from, Twitter users!)
  • Writing retreats, with an ‘away day’ feel,  so a close-by external venue will be booked (likely a full day, or multiple days – perfect for summer!)
  • Seminar-based activities, where somebody shares a piece of work they are currently amending (or have a finished draft of) for constructive and supportive feedback from the group.  This has proven invaluable for me in the past – my first publication definitely wouldn’t have got through the review process so quickly without one of these sessions, and I got some really helpful job advice on another occasion too
  • There is also a possibility, should this be something that takes off well here, of starting an early career/phd student seminar series for presentations on research and general tips on early career academic life.  But I’ll see what happens.

All of the above usually involve cake, caffeine, possibly alcohol, and potentially all of these, during and after the events.  All are welcome!

We have an email list going of everybody interested in being kept in the loop about events such as the above.  So, the first thing to do is to let me know if you want to be added to the list!  Please include your email address, department/school and job title/student status.   You can also join the Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/146518089103589/.  Any volunteers for co-running the more comprehensive sessions would also be greatly appreciated.  We meet around once per month, but sometimes more!

Feel free to contact me and get a bit more information about the above before committing to the email list if you would like to.  You can also contact me more informally via my Twitter account (apologies in advance for all of the cat tweets…) @liminographer.  Even if you don’t want to participate in the above, but fancy meeting up for a coffee or a drink with a fellow ECR, then please do get in touch!

Happy writing!

Email: ecooper2@uclan.ac.uk

Sex in the City: Reactionism, Resistance and Revolt – AAG #Geosex16 sessions in San Francisco (March/April 2016) **POST 5/5 – SESSION V**

V – Spaces of Empowerment and Social Inclusion

Paul J. Maginn (@planographer) (University of Western Australia) and Alistair Sisson (@alistairsisson) University of Sydney): “‘Orgasmic Geographies’: The Socio-spatial Distribution and Cultural Significance of Sex Toys in Australia

Paul’s paper centred on adult retailing in Australia – he began by outlining how adult retailing in Australia has come a long way since the first sex shops (opening in the early 1970s), where mainly pornographic material was sold (Sullivan, 1997). He explained that the number of sex shops has proliferated and the range of shops have diversified with 3 broad types of physical stores now identifiable – ‘seedy and sleazy’; ‘corporate chain stores’; and ‘erotic boutiques’ – that cater to particular client bases (Maginn and Steinmetz, 2014). Paul’s research – conducted with Alistair Sisson (University of Sydney) – focuses on “historical sales data from two online retailers, one Australian and one international, and uses GIS to map the socio-spatial distribution of sex toys and other related adult products across Australia at different spatial scal”es. More specifically, their research examines the “gendered, political and socio-economic aspects of the sale of adult products” to ascertain just how socio-spatially and -culturally mainstream sex toys have become in 21st century Australia.

 

Paul then briefly outlined the conceptual framework for the research. He discussed how the emergence of feminist adult literature, sex toy businesses (see Prof. Lynn Comella’s work) and ‘stylised pleasure’ has “situated sex shops as sites of cultural production AND retail production; thus perpetuating changing cultural norms around adult retailing and pleasure”.  Paul discussed the paralleled changing aesthetics of adult retail stores, “promoting style” as opposed to just phallocentric aesthetics, and becoming more ‘vanilla’ (drawing on Prof. Clarissa Smith’s work).  Paul dubbed this a “depornification process”, removing the notion of seediness and sleaziness and promoting the “commodification of pleasure” – he outlined how sex shops have capitalised on wider cultural sexuality eg the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon.  He commented on the ways in which the FSOG phenomenon has, regardless of the attitude towards the quality of the book itself, had a marked impact on the demand for the accompanying adult retail market.

Paul then went on to discuss the range in products available – ranging from basic, entry level to luxury goods, e.g. a gold vibrator selling for £10000 (which he dubbed as more collector’s items)!  He outlined the 3-pronged sex shop typology in more detail, and then discussed the Perth context.  Paul explained that there are not many small, boutique stores in Perth but these are beginning to emerge across Australia more broadly.

Some findings (**I was chairing this session so didn’t get many results down in detail**): in relation to the socio-spatial distribution of sales, Paul explained that they currently had 2 years’ worth of data but that this does not provide information on who the customers are.  He outlined that there were high levels of sales in Perth and Sydney (with plenty of sex shops in Sydney). NSW is the most populous state but had fairly small sales numbers as a whole.  He explained that therefore sales analysis should be studied at more of a regional scale, with the micro-geographies of sales being particularly interesting. Paul also explained that, so far, it is suggested that political voting makes no difference to sales.

Paul finished the talk by stating that sex toys have gone through a staged evolution: ‘from marital aid, to sex toy/pleasure, to a collector’s item’.  The changing nature of shop/website aesthetics and the dilution of phallic display ‘raises interesting questions about who-should-see-what in sex shop windows’.

 

Lesley Gabriel (@muckybooksblog) (Birmingham City University): “50 Shades of Suburbia: The BDSM Scene in Birmingham, UK”.

Lesley’s paper described the ongoing research for her PhD into the BDSM scene in Birmingham, UK.   Although in the early stages of her PhD, Lesley explained that it is likely her research will take the form of an ethno-history, with interviews conducted with participants from the Birmingham BDSM scene.  These participants, she stated, will range from those who first established the Birmingham Bizarre Bazar (BBB – a monthly fetish market and after party), right through to newer members of the community who may have been led there by the claim on the BBB’s website: “If you liked 50 Shades, you’ll love the BBB!”  The Birmingham scene revolves around the Birmingham Bizarre Bazar (or BBB) which attracts a wide range of attendees from across the UK and Europe.  She also stated that the project will also provide a “thorough discussion of how the internet has changed the scene by enabling better communication as well as education and kink-related commerce”.

Lesley outlined the justification for her PhD project in the presentation.  She began by stating that BDSM is a blended acronym and a colloquial term for kink, and providing some context on the study site.  Birmingham, she explained, is the “birthplace of the industrial revolution and a rock capital, with a large-yet-currently-undocumented BDSM scene”.  She said that while there is a concentration in the literature on global hubs for BDSM activity such as San Francisco or London, nothing has been published about the UK’s second city – despite the scene being a large and cohesive one.

Through an ethno-history approach inspired by Kuhn (2002), Lesley is interested in “what participants in the scene do, how they identify themselves and the words they use to describe what it is they do/are”.  She outlined how, regardless of what one thinks of the 50 Shades of Grey books, it is difficult to ignore their popularity and influence over the BDSM scene, including bringing issues of consent to the discussion.  Lesley outlined how recent research has shown that, despite some from the BDSM scene wanting to project it from people from the FSOG movement, one of the opinions is that ‘if you are going to come to the scene because of FSOG, then learn something about it’. Lesley finished by stating that coming to the AAG2016 had been “instrumental in learning the role of sex workers in the BDSM community” – and that she would like to include such voices in her research.

 

Susan Buckingham, Prof and Monica Degen, Dr (Brunel University London): “Transformational space and gendered and sexed identities” **I didn’t take any useful notes during this presentation – chairing commitments made these difficult to decipher!**

Abstract: The proposed paper examines the potential of space to be transformational for a group of vulnerable women for whom their identity is more than usually closely tied to their sexed and gendered bodies. Our discussion emerges from a research project which explored yoga as a research methodology (Buckingham and Degen, 2012), and research in progress on sex workers’ identity with different spaces. Through these projects, it is becoming clear that how the women felt, identified and behaved was powerfully shaped by the spaces they inhabited (Tuan 1977). From the domestic space of the women’s centre in East London in which the participants accessed facilities and services, through their local regenerated neighbourhood, and distant places to which they were introduced, we discuss how three particular places enabled these women, otherwise stigmatized as marginal through being ‘homeless’, ‘substance abusing’, and/or prostitutes in their habitual spaces, to produce an alternative re-formulation of their self-identities (Keith & Pile 1993; Knowles & Alexander 2005).  Employing an ethnographic approach, the paper considers how a high specification architect designed support centre, third sector spaces, and a coastal holiday location each offered such vulnerable women spaces in which they could expand the boundaries of their profoundly gendered and sexed identities. Finally, we consider what the broader implications of our findings are for theorizing a ‘politics of difference’ for vulnerable groups in contemporary neo-liberal cities (Young 1990).

 

 

Christina Bazzaroni (PhD Candidate – Florida International University): “Sex Positive Culture Creation: Kinky Salon and the Sex Culture Revolution

Christina’s paper discussed her PhD research on Kinky Salon, which she outlined is an “arty, sexy party” providing an alternative space for sexual exploration to typical sex clubs that are “often impersonal and intimidating”. Christina outlined that these events happen in 12 cities around the world, reproduced in the same way across space, and that “each party has a theme and dress code to foster community and fun”.  She stated that Kinky Salon positions itself as a global sex positive community (with a strong complementary online community) that aims to “facilitate cultural and political change by adopting strategies and ideologies of co-creation and cultural revolution”. The events, Jennifer argues, cultivate a sex-positive community organized largely around individuals that are “participation and activism oriented”, politically aware, ethical actors. Furthermore, she says, the KS community of participants and volunteers often develop lifestyles that “embrace various configurations of ethical non-monogamy”.  Its core values are: “playful, safe, inclusive, creative, community spirited, socially conscious, and sexually progressive”.

Some key questions in Christina’s PhD research include: What is it to be sex positive (e.g. the type(s) of freedom it relates to)? What is sex positive culture/community? What is the sex culture revolution? She contextualised these questions initially by discussing that the sex and sexualities field is moving away from centring on LGBT enclaves alone, and focusing on ordinary cities as well as global tourist centres (drawing on Phil Hubbard’s work).  She argued that the field is now wanting to ask more questions about “how alternative sex communities garner more positive sexually expressive spaces” – and alternative partnering strategies such as polyamory and ethical, consensual non monogamy – drawing from feminist geography literature.

Jennifer outlined that a central feature of KS is the idea of sex positivity – and serves to challengeconventional negative norms around sex, and shame around bodies”.  Jennifer outlined how the AIDS crisis of 1980s created fear around sex, and that “KS, as part of the new generation, has grown divorced from tragedies from past generations”.  She outlined the centrality of issues such as consent to the culture, and that the events have a clear charter outlining the norms/orders of the venues.  Jennifer explained that often the individuals involved are politically aware and have an action-based political agenda: “wanting individuals to enter the door, change their lives and re-enter society”. 

The paper concluded by asking questions regarding how these sort of events/venues could reach out to other people, and asked for suggestions from conference attendees.  Jennifer also outlined that there is still a way to go with mainstreaming BDSM sexual expression.

 

Final note:

Paul, Clarissa, Martin and I are exploring publication options for the papers from our sessions and so further details will hopefully be available soon.  (Particularly if you have stuck with me for all 5 posts), thanks very much for reading and I hope all of my post-conference ramblings made sense!

 

 

Sex in the City: Reactionism, Resistance and Revolt – AAG #Geosex16 sessions in San Francisco (March/April 2016) **POST 4/5 – SESSION IV**

IV – Navigating Risk and Violence

 

Joanne Bowring (@jojobo77) (Liverpool John Moores University): “An exploration of the experiences of those working in the UK adult film industry.

Jo’s paper centred on her PhD research into the experiences of those working in the UK adult film industry.  She began by outlining that, despite the debate around the supposed harms of pornography, for viewers, society and performers being very intense, little research has been conducted regarding the experiences of the UK adult film workforce. Jo outlined that Pornhub has around 1.68 million visits every hour, and that in 2007, there were 13,000 adult films made in the US alone – with the International Adult Film Database including over 100,000 performers.  The British Girls Adult Film database has over 2000 female performers registered.

Jo then discussed the UK context – it was outlined that while most production is legal, recent legislation (e.g. Audio-Visual Media Services Regulation, 2014) prevents certain acts from being produced.  Examples include female ejaculation and spanking if more than just titillation; legislation which Jo argued is sexist, due to the policing of female pleasure in such production.  Most porn research, Jo outlined, is also based on the “potential for harm – for viewers, women and society” and does not centre the performer voice. Jo ‘s research, she stated, is pro-performer voice, and comes from the position that it should not be censored on moral objections/nuclear family ideals.  She also outlined how porn is not a homogeneous lump of material; it is hugely varied in content and in production, ranging from sole traders to massive organisations.

Jo discussed some of the difficulties she has faced so far in the research process – including being “labelled pro-porn and part of the pimp lobby just by speaking to sex workers for the project”.  She also outlined that previous research has highlighted that when the general public think about the porn industry, the damaged goods hypothesis (Griffiths et al 2013) is a prominent theme – the assumption that everyone has been abused as a child, with some other features on HIV cases in the US.  As a result, she argued that research requires much more of a comprehensive focus on the risks and opportunities presented by the industry with a more open lens (rather than assuming victimhood, harm, and assumptions about characteristics/experiences of workers) She also outlined that it is timely to explore the implications of the audio-visual media regulations on performers, and to try and navigate ways to challenge stigma and include more of a diverse performer voice in debate and policy decisions.

Although in the early stages, Jo mentioned that the level of interest has been good and I look forward to seeing what her findings are.

 

Jill McCracken, PhD (University of South Florida St. Petersburg): “To Name is to Resist: Bridging Reactionism to Decrease Violence in the Sex Industry” **I didn’t take many notes during this presentation, as it was largely very interactive**

Abstract: “This presentation explores relationships between the discursive and material violence that occurs against individuals in the sex industry. The discourse surrounding sex work and trafficking in the sex industry–the terminology, images, descriptions, and definitions–are fraught with difficulty and complexity.  Because they center on topics about which many hold strong beliefs, the language, labeling and perspectives lend themselves easily to reactivity, which both creates and inhibits resistance. Rhetorical, semantic, and ideological warfare then ensues and often the underlying issues–violence in this case–are moved to the sidelines. My findings document 1) how violence occurs within categories and definitions when words and images are used to achieve specific goals, based on contradictory moral frameworks and values often labeled as conservative, progressive, sex positive, and radical, among others; 2) the bridges that exist between these polarized stances that can provide a foundation for shared goals and outcomes, and 3) how these articulations can contribute to decreasing the material violence that is used against so many individuals within the sex industry. Using rhetorical and ideological analysis of the themes that emerge from legal, media, and academic discourses about sex work and trafficking in the sex industry, I present the central ideas as well as the underlying values and ideologies that inform these themes and perspectives. Examining the language and belief systems that inform these arguments reveal overlapping values and connections that can be the foundation for building and achieving common goals”.

Jill showed the audience some videos about trafficking which we discussed as an audience.  Questions raised included: “what is the goal of such videos, what did we see, who gets to speak, and what are the main messages?”

Some offerings from the audience were: the key message from the imagery is to “put your clothes back on” (prostitution), “give us (those making the video) money/donate”, “jazzy infomercial style”, “having a goal of salvation”, “do the messages curb or create violence”? 

 

Jennifer McGibbon (@jennyMcG) (University of Georgia): “Anti-Trafficking and the Hyper-Criminalization of Sex Workers

Jennifer’s paper focused on the anti-trafficking movement and its ‘hyper-criminalisation’ of sex workers.  She began by outlining the issues with recent legislation, including (as examples) the ‘anyone who benefits from sex work-related income’ that features in many policies, resulting in spouses, roommates, consenting escorts and drivers etc to be implicated.  The ‘criminalisation of human contact’, as dubbed by Jennifer, means that in writing strip clubs are therefore illegal and this sort of problematic system results in the ‘burden of demonstrating coercion involved in the transactions being removed’.

Jennifer outlined how, in 2014, the Oakland nuisance eviction ordinance was put in place which required landlords to evict suspected prostitutes (and they can be fined by the city if they fail to evict).  This garnered media coverage and opposition from tenant’s rights/sex worker groups.  Similary, the 2013 formation of New York’s Human Trafficking Intervention Courts (HTIC’s) also contributed to the hyper-criminalisation of sex workers, with as the Red Umbrella describe as the ‘feminised version of stop and frisk” and Jennifer outlined that such strategies ‘disproportionately  target women of colour/trans/poor women as ‘prostitutes’ – “because they look like one” and leave them in legal limbo.’  Jennifer outlined that sex workers can also be rearrested for returning to the area they were arrested in and this therefore creates ‘de facto prostitution free zones’.

Jennifer argues that such anti-trafficking movements and their subsequent regulations act as tools of gentrification, strengthen the illegal sex trade and increase trafficking – while also giving policing power to citizens.  She outlined how sex worker populations are often already living in situations of precarity and the identification of ‘the trafficker’ in new legal situations where the trafficker doesn’t even need to be a 3rd party (consenting adult sex workers can be charged for trafficking themselves) is now very muddy – creating further uncertainty.  She argued that violence is not an inherent part of the sex industry but inherent to capitalism, whereby sex workers are forced to choose between a job that doesn’t provide a living wage, or a job that sells sex which they may not want to do – and that ‘we have to tackle capitalism more broadly to tackle the real issues’.  She also argued how important it is that society “re-imagines sex workers as complex, multi-faceted human beings, capable of consent and making logical decisions” – the anti-trafficking discourse, she states, makes it impossible for sex workers to be seen as able to say no or yes to sex, “which is very disabling”.  She argued that the moral panic that anti-trafficking law engenders needs to be addressed – and that “it is important for survival sex workers to be central to legislation which disproportionately impacts them” and to resist the hyper-criminalisation of the sex industry.

A final note from Jennifer’s abstract: “My work constitutes a meaningful intervention into the anti-trafficking narrative by questioning and re-evaluating the goals and methods of racialized, gendered “rescue” and the efforts by the anti-trafficking movement to eradicate the sex industry entirely. The objective of my research is to understand how the anti-trafficking movement has shaped this atmosphere of hyper-criminalization and what forms of resistance are most effective in fighting criminalization”.