Summary: In this article, Amalia Cabezas presents several problems with the common conceptions of sex work in the Dominican Republic and Cuba. She takes issue with the term ‘sex work’ being used to define any practice of sex for the exchange of money, as its expression is often more varied and complicated than a simple transactional relationship.
Cabezas points to increased tourism as a cause of increased sex work, and “flexible reorganization of the labor process through the creation of seasonal work, the proliferation of informal market arrangements, and the erosion of boundaries between the formal and informal sectors of the economy” in both the Dominican Republic and Cuba (though she notes that historical conditions of poverty are more consistent in the Dominican Republic, due in part to the lack of social services offered in comparison to Cuba). The increased prevalence of sex work in these areas has contributed to a diversification of the types of relationships between tourists and hosts. Cabezas points to the many instances where what is deemed “sex works” goes beyond sexual acts in exchange for cash.
Both countries have terms which illustrate the variety of jobs available to people who cater to tourists. Not all of these positions explicitly cater to sex; for example, sanky pankys in the Dominican Republic are young black men who serve as tour guides for white women, as well as female entertainers who lead men to recreational activities and sightseeing. In both of these cases, it is often found that both parties are looking for something more long-term than transactional sexual acts, and for the “entertainers,” the work provides the opportunity for advancement, travel, and romantic relationships.
However, Cabezas does note that an increased “officialization” of sex work and tourism through companies like hotels has resulted in prioritization of certain bodies (light-skinned, primarily) over others when catering to tourists. The last half of the article discusses the problems with the term ‘sex work’ in its unequal application; it really only applies to certain “types” of people/work, and that influences the way it has been policed, enforced, and the way only some people have been protected. She says, “desire and affection are defined as “lighter”and prostitution as “darker,” effectively racializing the entire process. This binary opposition presumes relations not tainted by economic dependence, speculation, motivation, and interest, which apparently take place between individuals of the same racial, national, and class background.” As a consequence of these attitudes, it is very common to find mass arrests and sexual abuse of dark-skinned women who are accused of being the “bad” type of sex worker. And while there have been rehabilitation centers who are supposed to be of assistance to the women being targeted as undesirable sex workers, they have often fallen back on ideas of these women as greedy and unclean, rather than addressing the structural inequality that the system is set up on. Cabezas point as far as reform is that we need prioritize women’s sexual rights, while acknowledging the prevalence of racism and classism that exists in sex work.
-What would be an effective way to address the broadness of sex work/tourism? Are more terms required to encompass the variety of relationships between the travelers and hosts in countries where these relationships are common?
-How do we differentiate between exploitative sex work and one that is mutually beneficial for the participants? And, following that, can those differentiations help us determine a better solution to the problem of exploitative sexual trade?
-What can be done to combat the underlying racism/classism when it comes to the lack of protection for some women and the prioritization of others?