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Sex Work and the City

The Social Geography of Health and Safety in Tijuana, Mexico

By Yasmina Katsulis

Publication Year: 2008

A gateway at the U.S.–Mexico border, Tijuana is a complex urban center with a sizeable population of sex workers. An in-depth case study of the trade, Sex Work and the City is the first major ethnographic publication on contemporary prostitution in this locale, providing a detailed analysis of how sex workers’ experiences and practices are shaped by policing and regulation. Contextualizing her research within the realm of occupational risk, Yasmina Katsulis examines the experiences of a diverse range of sex workers in the region and explores the implications of prostitution, particularly regarding the spheres of class hierarchies, public health, and other broad social effects. Based on eighteen months of intensive fieldwork and nearly 400 interviews with sex workers, customers, city officials, police, local health providers, and advocates, Sex Work and the City describes the arenas of power and the potential for disenfranchisement created by municipal laws designed to regulate the trade. Providing a detailed analysis of this subculture’s significance within Tijuana and its implications for debates over legalization of “vice” elsewhere in the world, Katsulis draws on powerful narratives as workers describe the risks of their world, ranging from HIV/AIDS and rape (by police or customers) to depression, work-related stress, drug and alcohol addiction, and social stigma. Insightful and compelling, Sex Work and the City captures the lives (and deaths) of a population whose industry has broad implications for contemporary society at large.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Series: Inter-America Series

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pp. ix-xii

I grew up in California near a town called Nevada City. Established in 1849, Nevada City was a prosperous gold mining town, one of many in California. As a young girl, I visited its historic buildings and Victorian houses and marveled at the luxurious hand-carved stairways and dark red carpets of its stagecoach hotel. Just a few doors...


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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. 1-16

This book is based on eighteen months of intensive anthropological field research conducted in Tijuana, Mexico (2000–2001). My primary goals were, first, to document the experiences of a diverse range of sex workers who live and work on the U.S.–Mexican border, and, second, to understand the impact of one’s location in the social hierarchy on occupational health and safety. Although municipal laws, policies...

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Chapter One. Tijuana’s Origins

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pp. 17-21

Long before Las Vegas emerged from the desert as a glittering haven for gambling and sex work, Tijuana, Mexico, had established itself as a frontier version of Sin City. Located on the western hemisphere’s only first world third world border, Tijuana is estimated to be the busiest international border crossing in the world (Ganster 1999). Like its border cousins...

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Chapter Two. Tijuana Today

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pp. 23-38

Residents in the U.S.-Mexico border regions have overlapped economically, socially, and culturally for over 150 years. An estimated forty thousand residents of Tijuana travel to and from San Diego to work each day, spending an estimated one to three billion dollars on retail goods and services while in the United States (Lorey 1999). Family...

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Chapter Three. Milk Money, Drug Money, and the Sexual Entrepreneur

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pp. 39-59

Milk money, drug money, and the sexual entrepreneur are three loosely defined categories that describe the motivations cited by the majority of participants in this study for engaging in sex work. They would probably apply in nearly any setting, in different proportions depending on economic climate, employment opportunities, welfare services

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Chapter Four. Commercial Sex and the Social Landscape

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pp. 61-69

My first exposure to the commercial sex industry in Tijuana happened on Avenida Revoluci

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Chapter Five. Legal Status and Policing

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pp. 71-111

In Tijuana, fear of sex workers as vectors of sexually transmitted infection (STI ) has led to calls for their increased regulation via registration, mandatory testing, and criminal penalties. Though this system is intrusive, it does benefit those who work legally in that their legal status allows them access to the safest and most profitable venues

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Chapter Six. Gender Diversity

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pp. 113-142

The public’s collective knowledge about sex work is largely formed by stereotypes of and research conducted on female street prostitutes, particularly drug-addicted prostitutes, who often have a difficult time negotiating transactions with customers, are frequently taken advantage of, and are generally viewed as being out of control as...

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Conclusions and Recommendations

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pp. 143-152

The implications of legal status on working conditions and occupational risk are clear. Although previous research on sex work in Mexico suggests a statistical correlation between work venues and risk for STIs,1 I have demonstrated how work venues...


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pp. 153-159


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pp. 161


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pp. 163-171


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pp. 173-174

E-ISBN-13: 9780292793767
E-ISBN-10: 0292793766
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292718869
Print-ISBN-10: 0292718861

Page Count: 190
Illustrations: 16 photos, 2 maps, 1 diagram, 1 chart, 24 tables
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Inter-America Series