Feminists campaigning for the abolition of prostitution have long argued that it is men who buy sex, rather than prostitute women, who should be penalised and reformed. In recent years, the phenomenon of ‘trafficking’ in persons has provided feminist abolitionists with a more high profile platform from which to lobby on prostitution issues, and they have found policy makers increasingly receptive to calls to penalise men who buy sex. This has encouraged some feminist abolitionists to forge alliances with those who would more usually be viewed as ‘enemies’ of feminism and other progressive social movements (police chiefs calling for more extensive police powers and tougher sentencing policy, anti-immigration politicians calling for tighter border controls, and moral conservatives urging a return to ‘family values’). This paper is concerned with the dangers of such liaisons. It begins with a brief review of the findings of recent research on the demand for commercial sexual services, then puts forward some reasons why feminist abolitionists should be cautious about calling on the state to penalise sex buyers.
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