Rape, Prostitution and Consent

Sullivan, Barbara, “Rape, Prostitution and Consent”, Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology August 2007 vol. 40 no. 2, pp. 127-142.

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Sex workers are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault. However, until recently, there were significant barriers to the prosecution of those who raped sex workers. Prostitutes were seen as ‘commonly’ available to men, as always consenting to sex and thus as incapable of being raped. This article examines 51 judgments — from the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand — where evidence of prostitution was presented between 1829 and 2004. It demonstrates an important change in the 1980s and 1990s when, for the first time, men began to be prosecuted and convicted for raping sex workers.This change was partly due to rape law reform, but also to feminist activism and broader changes in social attitudes to rape. The article argues that sex workers have recently been ‘re-made’ in law as women vulnerable to rape, as individuals able to give and withhold sexual consent. This development needs to be taken seriously so that law and policy addressed to the sex industry works to enlarge (not reduce or constrain) the making of prostitutes as subjects with consensual capacity. This necessarily involves attention to more legal rights for prostitutes, as workers, and calls into question the conceptualisation of prostitution as always involving rape.

Full article available here. 

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