Regulating sex work in the EU: prostitute women and the new spaces of exclusion

Scoular, Jane, Hubbard, Phil and Matthews, Roger, Regulating Sex Work in the EU: Prostitute Women and theNew Spaces of Exclusion (2008). Gender, Place & Culture, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 137-152, 2008. Available at SSRN:


Contemporary prostitution policy within the European Union has coalesced around the view that femaleprostitution is rarely voluntary, and often a consequence of sex trafficking. Responding, different nation-states have, however, adopted antithetical legal positions based on prohibition (Sweden), abolition (UK) or legalisation (Netherlands). Despite the apparently sharp differences between these positions, in this article we argue that there is now a shared preoccupation with repressing spaces of street prostitution. Noting the forms of exploitation that nonetheless adhere to many spaces of off-street work, we conclude that the state and law may intervene in sex work markets with the intention of tackling gendered injustice, but are perpetuating geographies of exception and abandonment.

This paper is the outcome of the research project:

“Regulating the spaces of sex work: assessing the impact of prostitution law”

  • Start date: 01 June 2005
  • End date: 31 March 2007

This inter-disciplinary project will explore how the spatial distribution of sex work in four cities (London, Edinburgh, Amsterdam and Stockholm) has been shaped by particular socio-legal modes of regulation. This exploration is particularly timely given the ongoing Home Office and Scottish Executive review of prostitution laws, and the likely adoption of new laws for regulating the spaces of sex work in the United Kingdom. While the objective of the project is not to reflect on the effectiveness of the law, it will explore the ways that specific laws currently act to render some forms of sex work – but not others – illegal in specific spaces at specific times. Relating this enquiry to specific understandings of citizenship and identity, the aim is to lay a foundation for further explorations of the role of the law in constructing the spaces of sexual citizenship. The project will thus generate findings of potential interest to a wide range of stakeholders, and mark out an important new way of framing questions of sexual citizenship and identity via an approach rooted in a reading of the spaces of law.


Regulating the Spaces of Sex Work: assessing the impact of prostitution law


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