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“The Prostitution Problem”: Claims, Evidence, and Policy Outcomes

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A Commentary to this article was published on 26 March 2019

A Commentary to this article was published on 05 February 2019

A Commentary to this article was published on 22 January 2019

A Commentary to this article was published on 07 January 2019

A Commentary to this article was published on 17 December 2018

A Commentary to this article was published on 17 December 2018

A Commentary to this article was published on 14 December 2018

A Commentary to this article was published on 11 December 2018

Abstract

Prostitution, payment for the exchange of sexual services, is deemed a major social problem in most countries around the world today, with little to no consensus on how to address it. In this Target Article, we unpack what we discern as the two primary positions that undergird academic thinking about the relationship between inequality and prostitution: (1) prostitution is principally an institution of hierarchal gender relations that legitimizes the sexual exploitation of women by men, and (2) prostitution is a form of exploited labor where multiple forms of social inequality (including class, gender, and race) intersect in neoliberal capitalist societies. Our main aims are to: (a) examine the key claims and empirical evidence available to support or refute each perspective; (b) outline the policy responses associated with each perspective; and (c) evaluate which responses have been the most effective in reducing social exclusion of sex workers in societal institutions and everyday practices. While the overall trend globally has been to accept the first perspective on the “prostitution problem” and enact repressive policies that aim to protect prostituted women, punish male buyers, and marginalize the sex sector, we argue that the strongest empirical evidence is for adoption of the second perspective that aims to develop integrative policies that reduce the intersecting social inequalities sex workers face in their struggle to make a living and be included as equals. We conclude with a call for more robust empirical studies that use strategic comparisons of the sex sector within and across regions and between sex work and other precarious occupations.

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We would like to acknowledge the support and insightful feedback provided by Dr. Paul Vasey and the anonymous reviewers of our Target Article.

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Benoit, C., Smith, M., Jansson, M. et al. “The Prostitution Problem”: Claims, Evidence, and Policy Outcomes. Arch Sex Behav 48, 1905–1923 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-018-1276-6

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