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Drawing on recent empirical work that considers the relationship between different legal approaches to the ‘problem’ of prostitution, this article argues that the frequently drawn distinction between apparently diametrically opposed positions, such as prohibitionism and legalization, is certainly less significant than is often assumed and may, in fact, be illusory. This lack of distinction raises serious questions as to law's role in regulating sex work. In response to claims that law is ‘merely’ symbolic in its influence, I argue that these similarities arise precisely because law does matter (albeit in a different way from that assumed by a sovereign-centred understanding of the legal complex), and offer a complex and critical account of the role of modern law in regulating sex work. This approach not only more accurately elucidates the ways in which law supports dominant structures, in this case neo-liberalism, but offers some optimism for its (albeit limited) potential to transform.