17 May 2018

Theorising Everyday Police Interactions with Geneva Sex Workers

Last April Mira Fey, along with many Graduate Institute professors and researchers, went to San Francisco to contribute to the 2018 Annual Convention of the International Studies Association (ISA), which was centred around “Power of Rules and Rule of Power”. Mira is a PhD candidate in International Relations/Political Science (IR/PS) and is affiliated to the Gender Centre. In her doctoral research she compares formal and informal protection mechanisms in the street sex industry in three Swiss cities. Her paper for the ISA convention focuses on theorising police interactions with Geneva sex workers.

Could you give us a brief summary of your paper? 

I first discuss related literature on policing sex work and point out shortcomings, especially the missing ethnographic research on interactions between police officers and sex workers. My research aims to fill this gap for the case of the Geneva prostitution law. I find that the prostitution unit is unable to provide effective protection of sex workers without related directives in the law, especially for those sex workers most marginalised: young Romanian/Hungarian women who work on a short-term basis on the street and don't speak French or English. On the other hand, longstanding sex workers in the red light district who have friendly relations with the police unit are somewhat protected through trust established by repeated interactions.

How was your paper received by the panel and audience? 

I received some relevant comments from other panellists. While the panel was combined by ISA, its title was “Women as Sex Workers in Peace Time and War Time”, so the other presentations were to a certain extent related to the same topic. Unfortunately, it was scheduled on the last day, Saturday, so not many people attended.

Can you share your impressions of the convention? 

It is a huge conference with dozens of panels, workshops, roundtables and other events running simultaneously for five days. This makes it impossible to see everything, but it also allows you to pick specific events focused on your own area of interest, especially if your research is more of a niche topic in IR/PS as mine is. I attended several workshops, town hall meetings, and panels organised by the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies (FTGS) section. The critical methods café is always one of the highlights for me; there, senior scholars take time to sit down with junior researchers to discuss different non-traditional methods such as narrative approaches, ethnographic methods and discourse analysis. This year, I also enjoyed the location of the convention in San Francisco because I just moved to Berkeley for the final year of my PhD (sponsored by the SNSF Doc.Mobility grant) and was able to meet up with some friends from Geneva at the conference.

Interview by Marc Galvin, Research Office.