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Sexuality, Immorality and the City: red-light districts and the marginalisation of female street prostitutes

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This article examines how cultural assumptions about the status of commercial sex workers in Britain are produced (and reproduced) through social discourses, representations and practices which are articulated differently across space. Specifically, by developing ideas that sexual, gender and bodily identities are constructed through the repeated inscription of moral geographies on the topography of the city, the article seeks to demonstrate how the marginal status of female street prostitutes has been mapped onto, and out of, particular sites. Focusing on recent high-profile community protests against prostitution in Birmingham (UK), the article highlights the way that moral narratives and discourses were deployed by protestors in their attempt to construct an idea of community predicated on the exclusion of 'immoral' sex workers. This process was by no means straightforward, with the protestors, police and local press invoking different (and sometimes contradictory) notions of appropriate sexual, gender and racial behaviour in their identification of prostitutes as immoral. The article concludes that conflicting judgements as to whether commercial sex work blends into or trangresses the character of particular places engenders a spatial order which frequently serves to 'other' street prostitutes, 'placing' them in marginal sites.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 1998

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