Geography Reference
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their work. “No one is going to find us here, and if they do, they can't prove anything,
can't prove we are prostitutes so it's ok,” Maryam had told me in 2005. When I asked
about physical safety, she pointed to a series of cameras in her apartment and indicated
any problems arise. “We are living the life,” her friend Sayeh told me in 2008 when I
visited their five bedroom apartment, marveling at the view and prime real estate loca-
tion near the Palm Islands.
In 2009, however, all of this changed when the jealous wife of one of Maryam's cus-
tomers found out about her husband's activities and called the police. Maryam was ar-
rested immediately, and spent most of one year's income on legal fees and posting bail.
She was permitted to leave her holding cell in early 2009 but was told she could not
leave the country while her case was pending. She was charged with the crime of adul-
tery. When another client's wife found out about her, she charged her with a series of
crimes ranging fromespionage totheft. This time, however,the authorities couldn't find
Maryam. She had lost her apartment when her friends had rented her room out to anoth-
er young woman from Tehran in her absence and told Maryam not to return home due
to unwanted attention she or her clients' wives might bring. Maryam was relegated to
working in hotel lobby bars and clubs, and occasionally turned to street-based sex work
tomake endsmeet. Shebegan sleeping at the homes ofclients orinairport ormetro ter-
minals. When she sought out assistance from informal outreach groups, she was turned
Why the discrepancy? Why was Maryam turned away, unable to access services and
assistance while Ziya was taken in? The answers to these questions have everything to
do with perceptions of female sex workers 11 based on their countries of origin, and the
this spectrum of the sex industry because of demand tied to perceived race) are seen as
vulnerable and innocent, higher end sex workers such as Maryam are viewed as predat-
ory, guilty, and a threat to the moral fabric of society by those who provide outreach in
the form of social support and services. Their perceived complicity in determining their
ity to script their subjectivities into programmatic paradigms of “victimhood.” 12
In addition to the construction of the ideal “antitrafficking” initiative, is the script of
the ideal victim. The ideal “trafficked person” typically is a woman, usually working in
the sex industry, often young, and in the UAE, usually street based and from sub-Sa-
haran Africa. In Dubai, sex work is both racialized (or more appropriately, ethnicized,
but locals refer to these various ethnic groups as “race” and thus I will deploy a similar
vernacular, though cognizant of the social construction and problematic use of the term)
and spatialized.
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