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Demanding Sex: Critical Reflections on the Regulation of Prostitution

This book is edited by Vanessa Munro and Della Giusta and was published in 2008.

Paul Hamilton’s Review in the Internet Journal of Criminology states that “this collection is more than a re-hash of routine critiques of prostitution policy controls and the age-old ‘choice versus coercion’ debates that have dominated prostitution research in recent years. Uniquely for a collection series of this type, the commitment to a multi-disciplinary approach – economics, law, political and social theory, human geography and anthropology are all represented – not only ensures that divergent perspectives are heard (particularly with regards to the recent policy paradigm shift towards tackling the demand for prostitution), but also that any policy developments are understood in the under-researched context of the ‘market’ and the complex interrelationship between demand and supply. Herein lies one of the original and key achievements of this essential text in the burgeoning field of prostitution research.”

What follows is an excerpt from the Introduction which is available in full online

“The question of how to conceptualise, and accordingly of how to regulate, prostitution has long been a focus of attention. Diverse agendas about gender equality, the regulation of sexuality, personal self-determination, state protectionism, public nuisance and socio-economic disparity have come together in debates on prostitution policy – often fusing and/or clashing with one another in complex, unpredictable and controversial ways. In addition, particularly in modern times, debates over prostitution policy have intensified, fuelled by the development of a number of high profile, and markedly diverse, legal and policy responses at national state level. These responses range from regulative regimes for legalisation of the sex industry, to less interventionist models of decriminalisation of sex work, through to proactive efforts at its eradication through the criminalisation of the purchase of sex. The exact parameters of, and rationales for, these responses raise a number of crucial questions about our conceptualisation of the sex industry, as well as about how these policy level imperatives are being translated, or failing to be translated, into practice…

Compounding the controversy in these inter-national debates are ideological disagreements over whether to respond to the individual experience of involvement in prostitution or the structural significance of men’s commodification and consumption of female sexuality. In addition, there are significant methodological difficulties generated by the lack of reliable data about the scale and operation of this often illicit industry, as well as by the resultant dependency of researchers on case study evidence that renders systematic evaluation of the comparative merits and demerits of regulatory responses extremely difficult. Added to this are political conflicts arising from wider disputes about the acceptability of state paternalism, the scope of free movement imperatives, the impact of globalisation, the relevance of moral authoritarianism and the legitimacy of governmental intervention into what makes for ‘good’ work and/or sex. In addition, in a contemporary context in which patterns of (female) migration – both regular and irregular – have been linked to prostitution, these discussions have been increasingly marked by an imperative to identify victims of ‘sex trafficking’ as distinct from those persons (migrant or not) that ‘freely’ provide sexual services.

These developments continue to beg important questions, however, not least since their focus on autonomy and self-determination equires engagement with the terrain of agency in circumstances in which social and economic constraints restrict the freedom to choose any viable alternative. Despite this, the spectre of trafficking, and its relation to sex work, has been a key feature of modern prostitution policy.”


Vanessa E. Munro and Marina Della Giusta