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‘Sleeping with the enemy’? Some Problems with Feminist Abolitionist Calls to Penalise those who Buy Commercial Sex

  • Julia O'Connell Davidson (a1)

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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The support of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Save the Children Sweden and SIDA, which funded the pilot research discussed in this article, is gratefully acknowledged. Above all the author wishes to thank Bridget Anderson (Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford) who co-led the pilot study, and Patrizia Testai, LILA (Italian League Against AIDS), Catania, Italy; Jenny Gleeson and June Saetang, GAATW (Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women), Bangkok, Thailand; Manjima Bhattacharjya, Abha Dayal, Kalpana Viswanath and Seema Singh, Jagori, New Delhi, India; Sven-Axel Mansson, Department of Social Work, Goteborg University, Sweden; Ellinor Platzer, Department of Sociology, Vaxjo University, Sweden; Anders Lisborg and Morten Lisborg, Centre for Development Research, Roskilde University, Denmark; and Dixon Wong, Centre for Japanese Studies, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, who carried out the pilot research. The views expressed in this paper are not necessarily shared by those who funded and conducted the research.
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Social Policy and Society
  • ISSN: 1474-7464
  • EISSN: 1475-3073
  • URL: /core/journals/social-policy-and-society
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