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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Risky Business: Sex-work and Young Southeast Asian American Women in Oakland


This paper seeks to analyze why many young Southeast Asian American women in Oakland, California, are going into sex-work. I investigate the cultural and social factors that contribute to their popularity as sex-workers, as well as examine the existing structural problems that have led them to sex-work. I also begin to illuminate how these young Southeast Asian American women understand their own reasons for going into sex-work. The number of minors entering sex-work continues to increase, globally, nationally and locally, yet past and current literature tend to overlook the unique problems that exist at the local level that are tempting young women into sex-work. Research on young women and sex-work has identified sexual abuse, drug use and homelessness as risk factors that often lead minors into sex-work, but these risk factors do not apply to the population of young SEA American women in Oakland. Through studying this population who have been in or are at risk of entering sex-work, I attempt to complicate previous arguments that victimize and/or criminalize young sex-workers, by looking at the ways in which these young Southeast Asian American women demonstrate agency within societal and structural constraints.

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