Watching Each Others’ Back, Coping with Precarity in Sex Work

  • Barbra NyangairiEmail author
  • Ingrid Palmary
Part of the Peace Psychology Book Series book series (PPBS, volume 24)


This chapter considers the strategies that migrant sex workers adopt to cope with the precarity of their work in an inner-city Johannesburg brothel. Migrant women in sex work face daily stigma from having left families in their countries of origin and from their work in the sex industry, both of which position them as failed women. Sex work is illegal in South Africa and sex workers report abuse and harassment from police, as well as an inability to report crimes against them to the authorities because of their illegal work and their undocumented status. In addition, the proposed law reform on sex work in South Africa has resulted in polarised debates that have often failed to take sex workers views and experiences into account. This ethnographic research attempts to correct this by paying attention to the perspectives of women in sex work. In this chapter we explore the strategies that sex workers adopt to cope with their precarious existence. The research found that through the reappropriation of derogatory names like Hure, and their use of sexually explicit terms, sex workers created a group identity from which others were excluded. This group identity then allowed their own rules to be established and monitored collectively. These rules were largely designed to ensure the safety of sex workers in a predominantly unsafe environment. This chapter documents the way in which those who broke the rules were sanctioned by the group and the power relations that shape women’s interactions in the brothel.


Migrant Woman Taboo Word Undocumented Status Zimbabwean Woman Lonely Planet 
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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Zimbabwe Election SupportHarareZimbabwe
  2. 2.African Centre for Migration & SocietyUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

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