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On the edges of the law: sex workers’ legal consciousness in England

  • Eva Klambauer (a1)

In England, sex workers are placed at the edges of the law. How the social and legal status of sex workers impacts on their perception of and interaction with the law in a semi-legal setting has not yet been explored. Drawing on fifty-two qualitative interviews with indoor and outdoor sex workers in England, this study investigates their disposition to the law, legality and the state. The commonalities and discrepancies between the experiences of indoor and outdoor sex workers reveal the influence of the combination of legal framework and social status on sex workers’ legal consciousness. This study finds that, even in a setting of semi-legality, sex workers attempt to avoid contact with state authorities. However, this aversion to the current law does not prevent them from making claims for legal change. Surprisingly, indoor and outdoor sex workers hold opposing views on the appropriate level of regulation and state involvement in the sex industry. Remarkably, although outdoor sex workers have more negative experiences with arbitrators of the law, they desire the law's protection. In contrast, indoor sex workers’ main grievance is for sex work to be a legitimate industry that can operate with only minimal state control. These differences in outdoor and indoor workers’ legal claims are explicable by sharp cleavages in social status, vulnerability and degree of criminalisation. These findings demonstrate that intra-group differences in the legal consciousness of marginalised groups are key to understanding the role of social and legal status in shaping legal claims.

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International Journal of Law in Context
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