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Organisational Patterns of Sex Work and the Effects of the Policy Framework

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Challenging the binary construction of prostitution as work or violence, in this article we adopt a perspective to the under-researched phenomenon that is attentive to the agency of sex workers. The Introduction theorizes sex work as a continuum of professional and organizational practices, and discusses prostitution frameworks and markets in two post-socialist EU member states, Slovenia and Croatia. The main aim was to explore how organizational patterns of sex work develop in the two countries and what their specific features and varieties are according to the different policy systems.


Empirical analysis that is based on fifteen qualitative interviews (conducted in 2017) with sex workers in Slovenia and Croatia.


Analysis show that decriminalization policy context is more conducive to professionalization of sex work which can positively impact security and job satisfaction, while the criminalization framework facilitates violence and suppresses the empowerment of sex workers.


It is argued that “governing through crime” that still persists, especially in Croatia, needs to develop alternatives such as adopting the principle of “collaborative governance” where policy decisions are informed by sex workers.

Social-policy implications

Analysis show that decriminalization has enabled teamwork when sex workers interconnect as a business strategy, while the criminalization framework functions to limit the agency of sex workers. While stigmatization and marginalization of sex workers largely persists in both countries, the decriminalization in Slovenia has enabled teamwork when sex workers interconnect as a business strategy.

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  1. We acknowledge the importance of the terms sex work and sex worker used by sex workers’ rights activists to resist the dominant representation of prostitution as all violence and the persons involved in prostitution as victims. However, we use the term prostitution to signify the sector of the industry/type of work we are analysing.

  2. This study is part of a larger project Comparing Croatian and Slovenian Prostituion Regimes: Surpassing Exclusions, Securing Human Rights, financed by the ISRF. See Radačić and Pajnik (2017).


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We want to acknowledge the work of Lynnette Šikić Mićanović and Emanuela Fabijan who were with us the co-authors of the chapters Sex Workers and Sex Work in Prostitution in Croatia and Slovenia: Sex Workers’ Experiences. Zagreb: Institute of Social Sciences; Ljubljana: The Peace Studies (2017).


This research is part of the project financed by the Independent Social Research Foundation, Comparing Croatian and Slovenian Prostitution Regimes: Surpassing Exclusions and Securing Human Rights, ID 733, small group award. The finalisation of the Slovenian part of the study was conducted as part of the research programme of the Peace Institute Equality and Human Rights in Times of Global Governance, P5-0413, financed by the Slovenian Research Agency, 2020–2023.

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Correspondence to Mojca Pajnik.

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Pajnik, M., Radačić, I. Organisational Patterns of Sex Work and the Effects of the Policy Framework. Sex Res Soc Policy 18, 575–587 (2021).

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  • Prostitution
  • Sex work
  • Post-socialism
  • Decriminalisation
  • Criminalisation
  • Agency
  • Organising work
  • Stigma