The regulation of sex work continues to be a divisive topic in England and internationally. Policies governing the policing of the sex industry in England are continually revised and debated, but are seldom grounded in empirical evidence of sex workers’ experiences. Based on 49 qualitative interviews with sex workers in England, this article finds that indoor sex workers had far more positive experiences with the police than outdoor sex workers. Despite this difference, both indoor and outdoor sex workers perceive their interactions with the police through the lens of their stigmatized status as sex workers and do not expect respectful treatment by the police. This article presents compelling evidence that an enforcement-led approach to policing creates insuperable barriers to the success of protective policing.
In the last decades a series of sexual services that offer company, talk, and more generally, what is understood as a ‘girlfriend experience’, are increasingly offered to a middle and upper-middle class clientele. These services involve a change in the boundaries of intimacy. We argue that they can be interpreted as part of the general process by which late capitalism has subsumed the 1968 critique that demanded liberation and authenticity. Based on an analysis of in-depth interviews with escorts and street walkers, we explore the discourse of authenticity in escort work in Spain and how the line is drawn between an ‘authentic intimacy’ that is sold, and a ‘private intimacy’, which involves the non-commodified affective life of the sex worker. We argue that escorts and street walkers draw these borders differently, the former emphasising authenticity in their service. Both, however, deploy a form of emotional labour.
In Vancouver, Canada, there has been a continuous shift in the policing of sex work away from arresting sex workers, which led to the implementation of a policing strategy that explicitly prioritised the safety of sex workers and continued to target sex workers’ clients. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 26 cisgender and five transgender women street-based sex workers about their working conditions. Data were analysed thematically and by drawing on concepts of structural stigma and vulnerability. Our results indicated that despite police rhetoric of prioritising the safety of sex workers, participants were denied their citizenship rights for police protection by virtue of their ‘risky’ occupation and were thus responsiblised for sex work related violence. Our findings further suggest that sex workers’ interactions with neighbourhood residents were predominantly shaped by a discourse of sex workers as a ‘risky’ presence in the urban landscape and police took swift action in removing sex workers in the case of complaints. This study highlights that intersecting regimes of stigmatisation and criminalisation continued to undermine sex workers citizenship rights to police protection and legal recourse and perpetuated labour conditions that render sex workers at increased risk for violence and poor health.
This article draws upon 18 months of participant observation with 50 street-based sex workers living in a transitional housing facility. Subsequent in-depth interviews with 50 different women actively working on the street also inform analysis presented here, which explores discursive practice as one of the most salient means by which women maneuver within a socio-legal system that targets them as individuals engaged in criminalized behavior. Findings presented in this article build upon the larger project’s goal of articulating the complex and highly individualized ways in which US street-based sex workers struggling with addiction negotiate the move from membership in a criminalized group to what more than a few women describe as “being a productive member of society.” Street-based sex workers engage in this complex shift while embedded in what I term an exclusionary regime, a dense coalescence of punitive forces which involve both governance in the form of the criminal justice system and engagement with the courts and other state agents, and regular patterns of action, including myriad forms of discrimination resulting from stigma. This article discusses three narrative forms that partially enable street-based sex workers to negotiate the exclusionary regime: recovery narratives, war stories, and nostalgia. These highly context-bound expressive forms function as powerful tools that help women to obtain resources and status, as well as convey the complexities of their experiences in ways that move beyond the otherwise constrained identities available to them.