Monthly Archives: August 2013

Prabha Kotiswaran (2008): Born unto Brothels—Toward a Legal Ethnography of Sex Work in an Indian Red-Light Are, Law and Social Inquiry 33, pp. 579–629.


The global sex panic around sex work and trafficking has fostered prostitution law reform worldwide. While the normative status of sex work remains deeply contested, abolitionists and sex work advocates alike display an unwavering faith in the power of criminal law; for abolitionists, strictly enforced criminal laws can eliminate sex markets, whereas for sex work advocates, decriminalization can empower sex workers. I problematize both narratives by delineating the political economy and legal ethnography of Sonagachi, one of India’s largest red-light areas. I show how within Sonagachi there exist highly internally differentiated groups of stakeholders, including sex workers, who, variously endowed by a plural rule network—consisting of formal legal rules, informal social norms, and market structures—routinely enter into bargains in the shadow of the criminal law whose outcomes cannot be determined a priori. I highlight the complex relationship between criminal law and sex markets by analyzing the distributional effects of criminalizing customers on Sonagachi’s sex industry.

Prior, Jason/Crofts, Penny/Hubbard, Phil (2013): Planning, Law, and Sexuality: Hiding Immorality in Plain View, in: Geographical Research.

DOI: 10.1111/1745-5871.12033


Emerging research in sexuality and space outlines the diverse forms of spatial governmentality used to discipline non-normative sexual behaviours, exploring how exclusion, concealment, and repression combines to ensure that ‘immoral’ sexualities are out of the sight of the ‘moral majority’. In this paper, we explore this contention in relation to planning for sex service premises (brothels) in New South Wales, Australia. Though such sex service premises are now legal, our analysis nonetheless considers the way that these premises have been subject to forms of planning constraint that reflect planners’ assumptions about the appropriate manifestation of sex premises within the urban landscape. By exposing the assumptions written into planning law that sex premises are legal but potentially disorderly, we demonstrate the evidential power of planning to reinforce dominant moral geographies through instruments which, at first glance, appear to be focused on objective questions of amenity and the ‘best use of land’. This paper hence explores the ways in which planners have translated assumptions of disorder into categories of visibility and distance, meaning that brothels have become hidden in plain view so as not to disturb the integrity of residential ‘family’ spaces.

Lee, Samuel and Persson, Petra, Human Trafficking and Regulating Prostitution (July 11, 2012). NYU Stern School of Business EC-12-07; NYU Law and Economics Research Paper No. 12-08. Available at SSRN: or

Full article available here.

The effect of prostitution laws on human trafficking and voluntary prostitution is subject to debate. We argue theoretically that neither legalization nor criminalization can simultaneously protect voluntary prostitutes and unambiguously reduce trafficking. We propose a novel, “hybrid” policy that achieves both objectives and restores the free market outcome that arises in the absence of trafficking. If a regulator aims to eradicate all prostitution instead, the optimal policy criminalizes all johns. Criminalizing prostitutes is ineffective and unjust because it fails to eradicate trafficking and penalizes victims. We consider cross-border trafficking, sex tourism, social norms, and political support for prostitution laws. The model predicts that the female-male income ratio is a key determinant of what share of prostitutes is trafficked, the consequences of prostitution laws, and the political will to enact or enforce them.

Janie A. Chuang, “Rescuing Trafficking from Ideological Capture: Prostitution Reform and Anti-Trafficking Law and Policy”. (May 1, 2010). University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vol. 158, 2010. Full text available here.


In the decade since it became a priority on the United States’ national agenda, the issue of human trafficking has spawned enduring controversy. New legal definitions of “trafficking” were codified in international and U.S. law in 2000, but what conduct qualifies as “trafficking” remains hotly contested. Despite shared moral outrage over the plight of trafficked persons, debates over whether trafficking encompasses voluntary prostitution continue to rend the anti-trafficking advocacy community – and are as intractable as debates over abortion and other similarly contentious social issues. Attempts to equate trafficking with slavery invite both disdain and favor: they are often rejected for their insensitive and legally inaccurate conflation with transatlantic slavery yet simultaneously embraced for capturing the moral urgency of addressing this human rights problem. The anti-trafficking movement itself has been attacked by those who believe it is built on specious statistics concerning the problem’s magnitude and by others who think it undermines human rights goals by drawing attention away from migrants’ rights and efforts to combat slavery in all its contemporary forms.
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O’Connell Davidson, Julia (2010): New slavery, old binaries: human trafficking and the borders of ‘freedom, Global Networks Volume 10, Issue 2, pages 244–261, April 2010


This article explores dominant discourse on ‘trafficking as modern slavery’ in relation to the many legal and social fetters that have historically been and are today imposed upon individuals who are socially imagined as ‘free’. It argues that discourse on ‘trafficking as modern slavery’ revitalizes the liberal understandings of freedom and restriction that have historically allowed vigorous moral condemnation of slavery to coexist with the continued imposition of extensive, forcible restrictions on individuals deemed to be ‘free’. In place of efforts to build political alliances between different groups of migrants, as well as between migrants and non-migrants, who share a common interest in transforming existing social and political relations, ‘trafficking as modern slavery’ discourse inspires and legitimates efforts to divide a small number of ‘deserving victims’ from the masses that remain ‘undeserving’ of rights and freedoms.


A paper by Prof. O’Connell Davidson on Tackling the ‘Demand Side’ of Trafficking? is freely available here.

Billaud, Julie; Castro, Julie, Whores and Niqabées: The Sexual Boundaries of French Nationalism, in:  French Politics, Culture & Society, Volume 31, Number 2, Summer 2013 , pp. 81-101(21)


This essay seeks to analyze the recent reconfigurations of French nationalism, taking as an entry point the legal treatment of veiled Muslim women and prostitutes over the past two decades. We argue that the bodies of prostitutes and veiled Muslim women, both of which have been targeted by successive legal interventions in order to exclude them from the public space, have become central political sites for the state to assert its sovereign power and trigger nationalist feelings. This comparative analysis of gendered “lawfare“ (which John Comaroff has defined as the judicialization of politics and the resort to legal instruments to commit acts of political coercion) provides insights into a new form of nationalism that strives to foster “sexual liberalism“ as a core value of citizenship in order to enforce a virile nationalism, prescribe new sexual normativities, and criminalize immigrants and those living at the social margins.

Brennan, Denise. “Key Issues in the Resettlement of Formerly Trafficked Persons in the United States.” University of Pennsylvania Law Review. Special Edition: “Trafficking in Sex and Labor: Domestic and International Responses. 158.6 (2010): 1581-1608.

Full article available here. 

The article presents a study of how individuals who worked under forced labor in the U.S. have rebuilt their lives. It focuses on the struggles within the resettlement process among person whom recognized by the U.S. government as being trafficked. It details on how individuals who were controlled under threats and violence have regained from oppression. Moreover, it emphasized the labor exploitation structure and process not just limited to forced laborers but also to low-waged migrant workers.