Regulating Sex For Sale: Prostitution Policy Reform in the UK

December 10, 2009

It is timely that Jo Phoenix's edited collection, Regulating Sex For Sale: Prostitution Policy Reform in the UK, should have made its way into print just after the Policing and Crime Act 2009 became law. She presents a lively and contemporary collection of works from some of the key writers, practitioners and researchers making a significant contribution to discussions about British sex-work markets. The book is specifically concerned with how new Labour has attempted to tackle the issue of sex work and, as Phoenix explains, it analyses the "processes, assumptions and contradictions shaping the UK's emerging prostitution policy agenda". Consequently, this collection is of particular interest to anyone working or studying within this field.

Phoenix starts with a meticulous account of the "frameworks of understanding", examining policy and commentary focused around UK sex work. Quite evident in her introduction is a cynicism about new Labour's approach to sex-work markets, something echoed throughout the book by the other authors, who in their own way draw attention to the gulf between the realities of sex work and the abolitionist views of government ministers as manifested through existing and proposed policies around prostitution.

This collection clearly indicates how the Government's strategies and policies have been both ineffective and out of touch because the historical, economic, political and social contexts of people's different engagement with sex work have been overlooked. Instead, it appears that the Government's attempts to explain and resolve what it sees as the social problem of sex work are often constructed through a moral discourse.

The book draws on both conceptual and theoretical examinations of government reforms, as well as empirical research conducted with sex workers, those who buy sex and the communities within which sex workers live and work. What is welcome and enticing about this edited collection is the diverse and up-to-date nature of the empirical research data discussed: in particular, the inclusion of studies on male sex workers by Mary Whowell and Justin Gaffney; on male clients of indoor sex workers by Teela Sanders; and the discussions presented around the sexual exploitation of children and young people, with some reference made to child prostitution, presented by Jenny Pearce.

Sanders draws on her research to examine government policies in relation to indoor sex markets, highlighting the implications of making it illegal to buy sex. On this point, she makes some refreshing and logical arguments by suggesting that such a measure will deter the non-violent "good customers", will further marginalise street sex workers and, importantly, will fail to get to grips with the root causes of why women enter the sex industry.

Whowell and Gaffney, in their equally critical look at new Labour's prostitution strategy, focus on male sex workers, referring to the accounts of male sex workers themselves. What the authors effectively emphasise is both the complexity of the male sex-work market, and the inefficiency of government policies in addressing male sex work per se.

Taking a different slant, Pearce considers the position of children and young people, and makes policy and practice suggestions intended to raise the profile of those who have been sexually exploited. She questions the current thinking that identifies children and young people who have experienced sexual abuse simply as victims, and argues that this clouds these individuals' identities, instead of locating "'the problem' of sexual exploitation as a social welfare problem".

Although her chapter may seem somewhat unusually placed among a collection of chapters far more focused on sex work, it nonetheless draws attention, more broadly, to the fact that the present Government's strategies and policies are constructed with little consultation with, or understanding of, those they directly affect.

Regulating Sex For Sale: Prostitution Policy Reform in the UK

Edited by Jo Phoenix Policy Press. 208pp, £65.00 and £23.99.ISBN 9781847421067 and 21050.Published 23 September 2009

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