This contribution examines how feminist economists have conceptualized sex work and trafficking through the lens of agency and stigma. The ongoing debate about legalization has focused on sex workers’ agency and choice, and on the role of stigma in shaping the supply of and demand for sex work. Building on the analysis advanced by contributions to this special issue, this study contends that theoretical and policy debates about sex work are dominated by false dichotomies of agency and stigma. It argues that the relationship between stigma and agency operates along a continuum of contractual arrangements that underpins a high degree of segmentation in the industry. The higher the stigma, the lower tends to be the agency. Current policies toward sex work therefore need reconsideration – especially mounting support for criminalization of clients, which, by increasing stigma, is likely to detract from the agency and the well-being of sex workers, however unintentionally.
Mary Jane Hayes was a “deviant” woman—a “drunken prostitute” who was in and out of both the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum and Fremantle Prison from 1871 to 1898. One of twelve women in the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum records to have been referred to as a prostitute, Mary Jane was particularly reviled: her alcohol consumption and unsavoury lifestyle were often blamed as the cause of her violent behaviour and insanity. Prison and asylum records reveal several arrests for drunkenness and vagrancy, with an estimated 67 convictions; newspaper articles also depict her numerous convictions for indecent behaviour, obscene language and larceny. Mary Jane Hayes’s contact with both the asylum and prison, as well as her mentions in newspapers, allows for an archival and media content examination of late 19th-century Fremantle society and its treatment of deviant women who fell into the category of moral insanity: madness caused by a moral failing, especially alcohol and sex. This article will make a wider contribution to colonial Australian history, particularly the history of Fremantle, by developing a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of women and moral insanity in the late 19th century.