Abolitionist feminism as patriarchal control: Swedish understandings of prostitution and trafficking

Jay Levy, Pye Jakobsson (2013): Abolitionist feminism as patriarchal control: Swedish understandings of prostitution and trafficking, in: Dialectical Anthropology. 

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In this special issue, we note some recurrent themes in international political and discursive engagement with a moral panic concerning human trafficking, notably a conflation of forced and free prostitution, alongside calls to abolish the sex industry through a criminalisation of the purchase of sex. We here specifically examine Sweden’s sex purchase criminalisation, with Sweden being the first state globally to legislate according to this call. Proclaimed as a measure to attack demand for prostitution and trafficking alike, this law is justified by an abolitionist radical feminist understanding of prostitution as a form of patriarchal violence against women. We argue that radical feminist discourse has been used as a means by which to posture as a progressive state, putatively recognising the apparent harms of the sex industry. In reality, however, radical feminist discourse is applied selectively and circumstantially in Sweden, with sex workers seen both as passive victims of gendered violence (per radical feminist discourse), and as dishonest and immoral. These constructions are used interchangeably, to justify displacing and controlling women perceived to be deviant and disruptive to normative hegemonic masculinity.

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