This article describes and discusses the results of two comparative studies of prostitution policy in Europe that are complementary in their design and methodology. One is a comparison of 21 countries using a most different systems design; the other an in-depth comparison of Austria and The Netherlands, using a most similar systems design. The two studies found a remarkable continuity in the inherent approach to the regulation of prostitution and its effects. Despite differences in political regime, administrative organization, and national cultures, since the middle of the 19th century, the purpose of prostitution policy has been to impose strict controls on sex workers and to a lesser extent their work sites. The effects of this approach have been disappointing: despite rhetorical claims to the contrary the control of sex workers has no discernable effect on the prevalence of prostitution in society. The effects of policies aimed at control are mostly negative in that they corrode the human and labor rights of sex workers. The article discusses several challenges to the regulation of prostitution (such as its deeply moral nature and the lack of precise and reliable data) as well a number of other important outcomes (such as the importance of local policy implementation for the effects of regulation). The article concludes with the empirically substantiated suggestion that a form of collaborative governance in which sex worker advocacy organizations participate in the design and implementation of prostitution policy offers real prospects for an effective and humane prostitution policy.
This article explores the experiences of sex workers living and working in South Australia under laws that criminalise their profession. A qualitative research methodology was used to interview sex workers about their work experiences. It was found that working in a criminalised setting raised particular concerns for sex workers including an erosion of workplace protections, outreach services, access to health service and increased policing. This article argues that criminalising sex work leads to human rights violations, therefore sex work should be decriminalised to ensure workers are protected. The themes from the interviews build qualitative evidence supporting the decriminalisation of sex work. This research has been supported by the Sex Industry Network of South Australia (SIN).
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.
Sex work is a criminal offence, virtually throughout Africa. This criminalisation and the intense stigma attached to the profession shapes interactions between sex workers and their clients, family, fellow community members, and societal structures such as the police and social services.
We explore the impact of violence and related human rights abuses on the lives of sex workers, and how they have responded to these conditions, as individuals and within small collectives. These analyses are based on data from 55 in-depth interviews and 12 focus group discussions with female, male and transgender sex workers in Kenya, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Data were collected by sex worker outreach workers trained to conduct qualitative research among their peers.
In describing their experiences of unlawful arrests and detention, violence, extortion, vilification and exclusions, participants present a picture of profound exploitation and repeated human rights violations. This situation has had an extreme impact on the physical, mental and social wellbeing of this population. Overall, the article details the multiple effects of sex work criminalisation on the everyday lives of sex workers and on their social interactions and relationships. Underlying their stories, however, are narratives of resilience and resistance. Sex workers in our study draw on their own individual survival strategies and informal forms of support and very occasionally opt to seek recourse through formal channels. They generally recognize the benefits of unified actions in assisting them to counter risks in their environment and mobilise against human rights violations, but note how the fluctuant and stigmatised nature of their profession often undermines collective action.
While criminal laws urgently need reform, supporting sex work self-organisation and community-building are key interim strategies for safeguarding sex workers’ human rights and improving health outcomes in these communities. If developed at sufficient scale and intensity, sex work organisations could play a critical role in reducing the present harms caused by criminalisation and stigma.
Sex work; Prostitution; Violence; Human rights; Resilience; Kenya; South Africa; Uganda; Zimbabwe