Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Women's Studies

Major Professor

Carolyn DiPalma, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Marilyn Myerson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sara Crawley, Ph.D.


Trafficking, Migration, Marxist, Postmodern, Radical


The existence of prostitution has been a longtime concern for many societies. It has also been a complicated issue within feminist discourse. Some women choose sex work as a viable economic option while others are forced into prostitution by traffickers and pimps and some are forced into it due to disadvantaged circumstances. The presence of sex work and prostitution is one of the occurrences that accompany a patriarchal capitalist system. Many feminists indeed argue that prostitution is a byproduct of a patriarchal capitalist system. The migration of women for sex work and the trafficking of women into prostitution cannot occur without participation of a dominant more powerful group, and a marginalized less powerful group. Sex work and prostitution are complicated components in an ever increasingly connected world. However, all too often, the belief that a patriarchal capitalist system supports the migration of women for sex work and the trafficking of women into prostitution fails to encompass all the complexities surrounding these occurrences.

The existence of sex work and prostitution involves legal, economic, political, and moral implications that deserve broad theorization. In order to more fully understand the legal, economic, political, and moral implications that contribute to the existence of sex work and prostitution, the voices of women that are involved must be illuminated. While this interview does not yet exist, I argue that only through interviews of women in sex work and prostitution can we fully understand the issue. Illuminating the voices of these women will help to reveal how issues surrounding sex workersí agency and victimization of trafficked women are present and absent within feminist discourse.

This thesis focuses on the differences between women sex workers with agency and women who are victims of trafficking and pimping. It also discusses the migration of women into the sex industry. The discussion of agency and victimization is applied to modern and postmodern feminist theory. Modern feminist theory is useful to an understanding of how sex work and prostitution are oppressive to the women involved and how conditions of agency and victimization are supported and/or negated. Postmodern feminist theory transforms the focus of the discussion from the identity of sex workers and prostitutes as agents and victims to a discussion of these women as subjects. First person interviews by sex workers reveal their subjectivity and supports the argument that what they do is indeed work, and it is viewed as such by the women themselves. Inclusion of the voices of sex workers and prostitutes also reveals the issues and concerns that they experience as employees in sex work and prostitution.