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The Price of Sex


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Table of Contents

1. How prostitution became a legal problem. An historical overview. Victorian attitudes towards prostitutes and clients. Modernity and changing ideals. The transformation of intimacy in post-modernity. The impact of the HIV crisis on perceptions of prostitution. The feminisation of poverty. The growing rhetoric of public protection. Johns' schools - the start of a dangerous approach. A new Trojan horse?. Chapter summary 2. Understanding prostitution policy. Statutes on sex work. Paying the price. The strategy. Regulatory impact. Assessment. Politicisation of the police. Home Office incompetence. Chapter summary 3. Understanding sexual demand 3.1 Understanding sexual demand 3.2 Studies on clients. Further analysis: Relationship between variables. Discussion of findings. Chapter summary 4. Policing street prostitution. The rules of engagement. Case study - police targeting practices. A model of police interaction with kerb-crawlers. Chapter summary 5. Violence, victimisation and protection. Vulnerability. Defining and quantifying violence against sex workers. Context of violence. Who are the violent clients and how prevalent are they?. Violence and control policies surrounding street work. 'Sex slavery' and the social and human cost of ignoring rights. Chapter summary 6. Motives, method and morality. Description of the research site. Geographical location. Organised vice and the street offences (or 'Tom') squad. Functions and routines of the street offences squad. Choice of research site and access. Theoretical triangulation. Focus groups and group interviews. Documents as a representation of power. Personal reaction to kerb-crawlers. Interviewing within the scientia sexualis 'a pleasure in itself?. 7. Conclusion. Key findings. Implications for policy and practice. Implications for theory. How should we decide which conduct should be criminal?. General framework for social policy. The process of professionalisation of sex work. Chapter summary

About the Author

Belinda Brooks-Gordon is Reader in Psychology and Social Policy.


This is the latest in the rapidly expanding specialist series of Willan books on themes relating to sex and society. It addresses a real gap in terms of current texts and understandings in relation to the problem of prostitution and specifically the legalization of commercial sex work. The author sets her stall out right from the start asserting that recent Government reforms to control prostitution are counter-productive in not only failing to meet their desired objectives, but in creating a number of unanticipated ancillary social problems. She has also been fortunate to draw on the expertise and help of a number of leading criminologistsand practitioners in the field,including Betsy Stanko, Keith Soothill, Helen Self, Lorraine Gelsthorpe and the Metropolitan Police Vice and Clubs Unit. This gives the book not only considerable academic integrity, but embeds the discussion in a practical and real life context as well. The first chapter provides a brief historiography of societal responses to commercial sex as both an actual and perceived problem, from initial public acceptance in Roman times to an increasingly less tolerant and more repressive regime. Reference is made to moral repression, the role of the church, the hypocrisy of the Victorians and associated vice and vigilance campaigns, through to the Wolfenden Report and the Sexual Offences Act 1956. From then the increasing use of more punitive strategies aimed at aaC--EueradicatingaaC--(t) the aaC--Euproblem,aaC--(t) primarily the kerb-crawling provisions of 1985 are covered, culminating in the Sexual Offences Act 2003. In the second chapter Brooks-Gordon analyses the integrity of the GovernmentaaC--(t)s investigation into the current problem of prostitution; analysing its Consultation Document Paying the Price 2004 and subsequent Co-ordination Strategy on Prostitution January 2006. The consultation report maintains the premise that prostitution must be controlled despite the fact that it is not illegal. The author challenges the GovernmentaaC--(t)s approach on the basis of its failure to even ask the question whether sex-work should be legitimate and its automatic assumption that it is and should be a crime. The consultation exercise is subjected to considerable criticism, particularly the lack of any historical perspective post-Wolfenden in the literature review and the subsequent failure to consider the wider contextual and socio-cultural changes of the past 50 years. The failure to address the psyche of male sex clients and the reasons why they choose to engage in commercial sex is identified as another shortcoming.Existing research on these themes is also underutilised and remarkably the Home Office is alleged to have misrepresented its own previously commissioned research.Further condemnation emanates from the GovernmentaaC--(t)s failure to fully consider policy initiatives introduced elsewhere, particularly Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and New Zealand, and where reference has been made the author claims it has been misinterpreted or misread.Finally, in relation to domestic aaC--Eure-education schemesaaC--(t) and aaC--Euconditional cautioningaaC--(t) the claimed successes of the Home Office are not, she argues, supported by its own research and statistics. Thus not only is it claimed that there appears to be a considerable amount of spin but also that the GovernmentaaC--(t)s approach lacks integrity in its failure to analyse the problem of prostitution in light of the not inconsiderable debates that have been taking place in sociological discourse. Brooks-Gordon questions the failure to utilise any legal discourse (i.e. legitimacy andlegal theory),feminist discourse (traditional moral discourse, sexual domination discourse, sex work discourse) or social policy discourse (public nuisance discourse, moral order discourse, market discourse) which given the subject matter displays either extreme ignorance or extreme arrogance and the author is right to point this out. Instead she asserts that the discourse adopted is one where sex work is constructed as a crime, and that adult prostitution and child prostitution are confused through the emphasis on both being labelled as aaC--EuvictimsaaC--(t) and subjects of abuse, when patently with adult prostitution this is not always the case. While the subsequent Co-ordination Strategy contains some positive changes such as the removal of aaC--EucommonaaC--(t) prostitute, referral medical services for street sex workers (albeit under threat of failure to comply) and redefinitions of and co-operation between brothels etc; the lack of vision including the dismissal of safety zones is in her view very disappointing. Brooks-Gordon also offers some interesting commentary on the police perspective questioning police (primarily The Met) neutrality (at higher levels) in terms of intervention and politicization. She also alleges that the police are complicit in maintaining a high moral tone about commercial sex aligning themselves with some unfamiliar partners:aaC--EuThe Strategy is a curious alliance of views which melds those of the police and the tabloids with those of radical separatist feminists, who along with the religious right, had a vested interest in running exit programmes linked to a new moral agenda (p.73).aaC--(t) The book then moves on in chapter three to analyse some empirical research conducted by the author with men who pay for sex, preceeded by a summary of the limitations of previous research in this field. The chapter maps out the characteristics and patterns of 518 cases of kerb crawlers stopped in London over a 2 year period categorized according to ethnicity, age, employment, offence circumstances, vehicle use etc confirming a number of (mainly unsurprising) assumptions and correlations. For example it was found that most street business occurs mid-week, that there was a significant proportion of diplomats and taxi drivers, tourists were treated more leniently than UK nationals, and many men were as interested in voyeurism as commercial sex etc. The findings are used to highlight the practical problems of enforcing law and policy espoused in chapter four which reflects on police responses and perceptions as evidenced in patrolling practices. Writing in the aftermath of the Macpherson Inquiry the author seems to be somewhat surprised that there was a aaC--Eunecessary awareness of genderaaC--(t) in the Vice Squads she followed and had expected to find more examples of institutionalized racism and sexism.Such assumptions from academics highlight the damage that findings of aaC--Euinstitutionalized racismaaC--(t) can create where all personnel are so-defined and the difficulties for the police service in endeavouring to overcome such labelling.The research also revealed the dilemma held by many specialist officers that while they did not perceive prostitutes to be in the same class as other criminal offenders they acknowledged the need to respond to residentsaaC--(t) concerns. The result was that this could often lead to a selective and undesirable charging strategy. On the other hand police officers, particularly female officers, were more dismissive of kerb crawlers and reported that dealing with them had led to a more sensitive understanding of the issues faced by sex workers. From her fieldwork, four typical responses of kerb crawlers to any police approach are identified - admission, admission to cruising, denial and failure to stop. These are reinforced by a distinctive 5 Phase order which matches, in 95% of the incidents observed, the interactions between the police and the kerb crawlers in the sample. These are labelled as the Bemused Phase, Excuse Phase, Indignant Phase, Confrontational/Pleading Phase and Indication of Future Intent. These signifiers are used to explain the tactics and strategies adopted by the kerb crawlers leading to the (not unexpected?) conclusion that kerb crawling is aaC--Eunot only more sophisticated and rule-governed behaviour than previously thought, but also perhaps more deeply rooted in the psyche aaC--A|aaC--(t) It is then strongly suggested that this model has implications for policy and practice such as in determining appropriate prosecution strategies. Chapter five is a short chapter that summarizes the incidence of violence against prostitutes. Again, unsurprisingly, the author concludes that levels of reporting violence against sex workers are low, that 73 sex workers were killed 1990-2002 and that current sentencing practice is therefore not working. The case is briefly made that this justifies the promotion of a safer environment for sex workers and that only a seismic shift in public policy towards commercial sex will have any significant and positive impact. No doubt Brooks-Gordon is right in this context, but it appears unlikely that the Government will offer a sympathetic ear at the moment. Perhaps of more interest is the tentative suggestion that there could be a link between those who kerb crawl and those who perpetrate serious acts of violence against prostitutes, albeit in a very small number of cases. The main conclusion drawn is that recent policies have increasingly criminalized the client and constructed the sex worker as victim causing conflicting tensions and dilemmas for police professionals. aaC--EuClientaaC--(t) groups are treated differently by the police and consequently the law is neither applied consistently or neutrally, undermining its integrity. The utility of criminalizing kerb crawlers is strongly challenged and the argument made that more non-criminal alternatives should be considered. A considerable number of (controversial?) suggestions for reform are proposed including the decriminalization of sex work and introduction of rights for those who choose to engage in what should be legitimate work, whether as part of a small worker-run establishment or larger business concern. Safety zones should be designated for street workers to operate in and laws protecting sex workers introduced so that civil remedies can be brought against those who abuse or harass them. Overseeing this should be a Home Office Sex Industry Inspectorate. While not everyone will necessarily agree with all of the recommendations and proposals suggested they are worthy of serious debate and introspection. This book should therefore provide the catalyst to generate the broader debate that Government in its consultation seemingly wished to avoid, whether deliberately or otherwise. Kim Stevenson- Plymouth University

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