Researchers have shown that stigma is a fundamental determinant of behavior, well-being, and health for many marginalized groups, but sex workers are notably absent from their analyses. This article aims to fill the empirical research gap on sex workers by reviewing the mounting evidence of stigmatization attached to sex workers’ occupation, often referred to as “prostitution” or “whore” stigma. We give special attention to its negative effect on the working conditions, personal lives, and health of sex workers. The article first draws attention to the problem of terminology related to the subject area and makes the case for consideration of prostitution stigmatization as a fundamental cause of social inequality. We then examined the sources of prostitution stigma at macro, meso, and micro levels. The third section focuses on tactics sex workers employ to manage, reframe, or resist occupational stigma. We conclude with a call for more comparative studies of stigma related to sex work to contribute to the general stigma literature, as well as social policy and law reform.
Brown, K., & Sanders, T. (2017). Pragmatic, Progressive, Problematic: Addressing Vulnerability through a Local Street Sex Work Partnership Initiative. Social Policy and Society, 1-13. doi:10.1017/S1474746416000634
Whilst it remains a criminal activity to solicit sex publicly in the UK, it has become increasingly popular to configure sex workers as ‘vulnerable’, often as a means of foregrounding the significant levels of violence faced by female street sex workers. Sex work scholars have highlighted that this discourse can play an enabling role in a moralistic national policy agenda which criminalises and marginalises those who sell sex. Yet multiple and overlapping narratives of vulnerability circulate in this policy arena, raising questions about how these might operate at ground level. Drawing on empirical data gathered in the development of an innovative local street sex work multi-agency partnership in Leeds, this article explores debates, discourses and realities of sex worker vulnerability. Setting applied insights within more theoretically inclined analysis, we suggest how vulnerability might usefully be understood in relation to sex work, but also highlight how social justice for sex workers requires more than progressive discourses and local initiatives. Empirical findings highlight that whilst addressing vulnerability through a local street sex work multi-agency partnership initiative, a valuable platform for shared action on violence in particular can be created. However, an increase in fundamental legal and social reform is required in order to address the differentiated and diverse lived experiences of sex worker vulnerability.
Mulvihill, N. (2017). The criminalisation of paying for sex in England and Wales: How gender and power are implicated in the making of policy. Journal of Public Policy, 1-25. doi:10.1017/S0143814X16000295
This article considers how gender and power are implicated in how prostitution policy is translated from initial proposal to enactment in law. The analysis brings together Freeman’s proposal for “policy translation” (2009) and Connell’s work on “hegemonic masculinity” (1987 with Messerschmidt 2005) to examine Hansard and other United Kingdom Parliament documents relating to Clause 13/14 of the Policing and Crime Bill 2008–2009, a proposal to criminalise the purchase of sex in England and Wales. It is argued here that hegemonic masculinity is implicated in how “responsibility” and “exploitation” in relation to sex purchase are disputed and defined within the Parliamentary debates on Clause 13/14, and this in turn informed the version of criminalisation that emerged as authoritative. This article reflects finally on how far mapping the translation of policy can elucidate the operation of gender and power within the policy process.
Stigma is ubiquitous in sex work and is well documented in studies of sex workers. But rarely have scholars examined the vital question of whether, and if so how, stigma can be reduced or eliminated from any type of sex work (commercial stripping, pornography, prostitution, etc.). After a brief review of the issues related to stigma, this Commentary proposes a set of preconditions for the reduction and, ultimately, elimination of stigma from sex work.
This paper problematises the usual Christian motif of rescue of sex workers that is disseminated by most faith-based groups working in the field. By focusing upon the problem of prostitution and individual rescue as the primary solution, broader relationships of accountability are neglected and complicated sex worker identifications become impossible. New strategies for thinking about human sexuality are needed that incorporate indecency as a way of questioning traditional moral representations reproduced by Christian outreach projects. As well, three strategies are outlined that could form counter-narratives for ministry and feminist theological reflection not based upon sex work as a problem to be resolved but instead carving out creative space for mutual engagement between pastoral practitioners and sex industry workers.