Abstract

The concept of ‘human dignity’ sits at the heart of international human rights law and a growing number of national constitutions and yet its meaning is heavily contested and contingent. I aim to supplement the theoretical literature on dignity by providing an empirical study of how the concept is used in the specific context of legal discourse on sex work. I will analyse jurisprudence in which commercial sex was declared as incompatible with human dignity, focussing on the South African Constitutional Court case of S v Jordan and the Indian Supreme Court case of Budhadev Karmaskar v State of West Bengal. I will consider how these courts conceptualise dignity and argue that their conclusions on the undignified nature of sex work are predicated on particular sexual norms that privilege emotional and relational intimacy. In light of the stigma faced by sex workers I will explore how a discourse, proclaiming sex work as beneath human dignity, may impact on the way that sex workers are perceived and represented culturally, arguing that it reinforces stigma. I will go on to examine how sex workers subvert the notion that commercial sex is undignified, and resist stigma, by campaigning for the right to sell sex with dignity. I will demonstrate that an alternative legal approach to dignity and sex work is possible, where the two are not considered as inherently incompatible, concluding with thoughts on the risks and benefits of using ‘dignity talk’ in activism and campaigns for sex work law reform.

 

Dorothea Czarnecki, Henny Engels, Barbara Kavemann, Wiltrud Schenk, Elfriede Steffan, Dorothee Türnau (2015): Prostitution in Germany – A Comprehensive Analysis of Complex Challenges.

This analysis of prostitution and female sex workers in Germany presents only the knowledge gained from many years of professional experience and the facts derived from scientific studies, including their complexities and discrepancies. Presented are the results of different surveys helping to provide a more objective and nuanced basis for discussion about prostitution. Women must be able and allowed to decide themselves how to live their lives in compliance with the law. This also has to apply to decisions that others cannot or barely understand, such as when women decide to work in prostitution. Women are entitled to expect their decisions to be accepted and respected. To claim or imply that these decisions are never made freely is to oppose the call by all women for the right to autonomy.

Full report available here

Holly Davis, “Defining ‘Pimp': Working Towards a Definition in Social Research” Sociological Research Online, 2013, vol. 18, issue 1, pages 11.

Abstract:

Recently expanding research on prostitution has lead to slightly more focus on an enigmatic yet major player within the underground sex economy: pimps. Whilst starting to shed light on the roles, and behavior of pimps, researchers have overlooked a fundamental element within social research that calls for the explicit definition of subjects. The ambiguous use of the word pimp across research projects impedes comparability, consistency and clarity within the growing body of literature on this topic. In an attempt to draw attention to the oversight of defining ‘pimp’, this paper proposes criteria and processes for a more robust definition and offers a more comprehensive definition of ‘pimp’. The definitional processes suggested are reviewed within this paper through exploration of the history, cultural context, mainstream usage, academic applications and feedback from pimps. This paper integrates data from in-depth interviews with pimps to offer their invaluable insight on the meaning of the word. The core objectives of this paper are to draw attention to the problematic definitional trends in this body of research, and propose new foundations for defining ‘pimp’ within social research.

Full text available here.

Women’s studies, anthropology, and international health all share an intellectual and, albeit in different ways, an activist or applied interest in prostitution/sex work, and this interest has recently intensified amid concerns about the AIDS pandemic and global “trafficking” in women. These three fields have also shared an evolution in the terminology naming their object of study: from prostitution to sex work to, most recently,sexual networking and survival sex. This evolution reflects a desire to shift the discursive fields surrounding monetized sexual exchanges from moral to economic terms. In other words, while there has been heated debate both within and among these different disciplines about how prostitution should be understood, whether and how national and international bodies should intervene in its practice, and who should represent it or speak for it, there has been some basic agreement that of the various terms to choose from, sex work, in particular, is a better label—better in that it may more accurately represent what women feel they are doing when they engage in monetized sexual exchanges (i.e., working) and their reasons for doing so (i.e., economic need).

It is questionable whether researchers within these disciplines mean the same thing when they use the term sex work. For some it may simply seem a more culturally neutral term than prostitution, which may conjure up images of nineteenth‐century streetwalkers. For others, the term sex work is a political assertion that monetized sex is a kind of labor that—like other forms of labor—should be remunerated, safe, and legal. Still others prefer the term sex worker because, unlike the term prostitute, it suggests an income‐generating activity rather than a totalizing identity. And finally, for some researchers, the term sex work speaks directly to causality; it implies that women resort to the exchange of sex for money because of the structural violence that feminizes poverty and prevents women from engaging in other financially viable ways of feeding their families.

Full article available here. 
RESEARCH ON SEX WORK IN CANADA tends to analyse the ways in which the Canadian Criminal Code contributes to stigma, discrimination, and violence toward sex workers. (1) The negative implications of criminalization have been well documented in sexuality studies, women’s studies, policy studies, and criminal justice studies research, not to mention by the courts themselves. In September 2010, a pronouncement by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice (2) ruled that the sections of the Criminal Code which seek to prohibit aspects of prostitution are not congruent with the principles of justice as protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (3) In effect, the ruling supported the decriminalization of many common work-related activities, for example: working from a fixed location, including one’s own home; hiring a driver or a bodyguard; and communicating in public for the purposes of engaging a client for services. The federal government appealed, and in March 2012 the Ontario Court of Appeal released its decision which again supported partial decriminalization. (4) The section of the decision regarding bawdy-houses includes a twelve month stay, which gives policy makers, politicians, sex workers, and labour organizers a limited amount of time to make recommendations and decisions about how to best regulate and organize indoor sex work.

While it is well documented that the criminalization of sex work increases harm and violence, the specific effects of criminalization on the organization of labour within the sex industry is considerably less documented. (5) As Becki Ross argues, “sex-free labour studies alongside work-free sexuality studies within Canadian social history has meant that the rich registers of ‘sexuality’ and ‘labour’ have rarely been placed systematically in relation to, and in tension with, one another.” (6) As such, this article broadens the scope of analysis related to sex work and criminalization by looking at its labour-related consequences.

Full article available here.

Tripti Tandon, Gabriel Armas-Cardona, Anand Grover (2014): Sex Work and Trafficking: Can Human Rights Lead Us Out of the Impasse?, Health and Human Rights Journal. Accessed June 12, 2015.

Sex work and its relationship to trafficking is one of the more divisive policy issues of our times, as seen in the ongoing debate in Canada over a bill that views prostitution as inherently dangerous, affecting vulnerable women and offending their dignity.[1]At the risk of over-simplification, the two perspectives on sex work are: i) it is seen as a cause or consequence of, or akin to, trafficking, exploitation, and violence: ii) it is seen as consensual sex between adults for money or other valuable consideration, distinct from trafficking. Although there has been an impasse resulting from the divergence of these views, there is increasing recognition that the reality is complex and individualized; people experience sex work across a spectrum between compulsion, constrained decisions, and choice.

Full text available here.

Lisa Maher, Thomas Crewe Dixon, Pisith Phlong, Julie Mooney-Somers, Ellen S. Stein, Kimberly Page: “Conflicting Rights: How the Prohibition of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation Infringes the Right to Health of Female Sex Workers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.” Health and Human Rights Journal. Accessed June 12, 2015.

Abstract

While repressive laws and policies in relation to sex work have the potential to undermine HIV prevention efforts, empirical research on their interface has been lacking. In 2008, Cambodia introduced anti-trafficking legislation ostensibly designed to suppress human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Based on empirical research with female sex workers, this article examines the impact of the new law on vulnerability to HIV and other adverse health outcomes. Following the introduction of the law, sex workers reported being displaced to streets and guesthouses, impacting their ability to negotiate safe sex and increasing exposure to violence. Disruption of peer networks and associated mobility also reduced access to outreach, condoms, and health care. Our results are consistent with a growing body of research which associates the violation of sex workers’ human rights with adverse public health outcomes. Despite the successes of the last decade, Cambodia’s AIDS epidemic remains volatile and the current legal environment has the potential to undermine prevention efforts by promoting stigma and discrimination, impeding prevention uptake and coverage, and increasing infections. Legal and policy responses which seek to protect the rights of the sexually exploited should not infringe the right to health of sex workers.

Full article available here.

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