Troubling Terms and the Sex Trades

Cover of RHR Issue 149: May 2024, Troubling Terms and the Sex Trades. Red umbrella march, showing people with red umbrellas and person in foreground with megaphone and wearing shirt that says "sex worker."

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This issue of Radical History Review assembles writings from scholars, sex workers, and activists, each of whom interrogates a “troubled term” and its place in the history of prostitution.

Genealogies: This section includes scholarly articles that explore a particular troubled term. Judith R. Walkowitz explores the genealogy of sex work and its embrace among UK prostitute rights activists. Elisa Camiscioli and Eva Payne trace the shifting meanings of (male) demand across national spaces, international accords, and two centuries. Christina Carney unpacks the moral panic over white slavery and the over-policing of Black women in the sex trades in turn-of-the-century San Diego. Katie Hemphill traces the origins of red-light district to Midwestern railroad and mining towns in the mid-nineteenth century. Annalisa Martin explores the introduction of Sperrbezirke (restricted area) after the West German Constitution of 1949 abolished regulationism. John Scott and Jane Scoular highlight the neoliberal features of decriminalization in New South Wales, Australia.

Reflections: In a series of short essays, sex worker activists, advocates, and scholars present brief, first-person accounts of a critical keyword they have worked with, or resisted, including: prostitute, survival sex, working girl, sex work, stigma, Asian massage workers, pride, classy, ally, trafficking, harm reduction, sex addiction, and decriminalization.

Curated Spaces: Through images and a curatorial statement, this section studies the ways that the red umbrella has become a widespread symbol for sex workers rights.

 Front Cover: Tadej Pogačar, Red Umbrella march from The First World Congress of Sex Workers, 2001.