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Free Content Is it time to drop the term ‘prostitution’ from policy discourse?

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In this paper, I wish to explore whether it is time to drop the use of the term ‘prostitution’ in English policy discourse. I argue here that ‘prostitution’ is a culturally loaded term and is insufficiently precise in describing the different contexts in which the exchange of sex for money or other resources between adults takes place. This lack of clarity has implications for policy action, which in turn materially affects the lives of those involved in the sex industry. I draw on MacKinnon’s (1989) thesis of the eroticisation of dominance as a productive framework for explaining why violence, harm and coercion are possible within the exchange of sex for money (or other resource), though not inevitable. I propose that we distinguish four categories: sex entrepreneurship, sex work, survival sex and sexual exploitation. For some scholars, such categorisations overlook how disparate practices are connected (Jeffreys, 2009), most obviously by patriarchy or economic inequality. However, I believe we need to see both the connections and the distinctions: if we conflate different practices, we lose the particularity of the contexts of practice and weaken the rationale for policy action. Worse, policy interventions may be harmful. I suggest these four categories can help us identify and distinguish between structural and interpersonal harm and structural and interpersonal coercion and help to formulate attendant criminal justice and social justice measures.
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Keywords: discourse; policy; prostitution; sex work; sexual exploitation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 2019

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  • The Journal of Gender-Based Violence (JGBV), is the first international journal based in Europe to show case the work of scholars across disciplinary and topic boundaries, and from a range of methodologies.

    The journal acknowledges both the breadth of gender-based violence (GBV) and its links to gendered inequalities. It aims to continue to document the voices and experiences of victims and survivors of GBV, to publish work regarding those who perpetrate GBV and of the varied and complex social structures, inequalities and gender norms through which GBV is produced and sustained. The journal recognises the intersection of gender with other identities and power relations, such as ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, faith, disability and economic status.

    JGBV will publish high quality papers that contribute to understanding of GBV, policy, and/or activism, on sexual violence, domestic abuse, ‘honour’-based violence, prostitution, trafficking and/or reproductive violence and abuse in a wide range of intimate, familial, community and societal contexts.

    The editors invite interest from scholars working across the social sciences and related fields including social policy, sociology, politics, criminology, law, social psychology, development and economics, as well as disciplines allied to medicine, health and wellbeing.

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