Safer Sex in the City: The Experience and Management of Street Prostitution

January 7, 2010

This edited volume focuses on the violence experienced by street sex workers and examines how street prostitution could be managed to reduce the risk of violence, its two sections dealing with the former and the latter in turn.

Many of the contributors acknowledge that it is the criminal or prohibited status of prostitution and the denial of the civil and human rights of sex workers that create the conditions in which violence may occur. These concerns therefore set the book firmly within a liberal tradition that defends the rights of sex workers to sell sex without fear of intimidation, physical or sexual assault or, in extreme cases, murder. And yet the terminology employed by many of the writers seems to contribute to processes of "othering" that render sex workers vulnerable to risks of violence.

Chapter three, for example, compares "non-prostitute domestic homicides" with "prostitute homicides"; chapter four "overviews the literature on street prostitute homicide", comparing it with "sexual and non-sexual female victim homicide"; chapter five compares "male clients of prostitute women who killed multiple prostitutes with those who killed one prostitute". Thus the murder of female sex workers is clearly demarcated from the murder of women in the general population, and there are numerous other examples of the use of stigmatising language.

In chapter six, Judith Connell reports on her findings from a study of "male prostitutes" in Glasgow and Edinburgh. This makes an important contribution to the literature, as much less is known about the experiences of male sex workers generally and their experiences of violence in particular. She demonstrates that it is not only the "female-ness" of sex workers that renders them vulnerable to violence; male sex workers also report verbal, physical and sexual assaults and even gang rape at the hands of clients, as well as intimidation and threats of violence from pimps. Connell also suggests that male sex workers may tend not to report experiences of violence to the police. In some areas of the country where multi-agency partnerships have been established to support female sex workers, these have developed positive working relationships with the police. This has meant that women are encouraged to report acts of violence against them and the police have been able to achieve successful prosecutions. Connell's chapter suggests that there may still be some way to go in achieving such success with male sex workers.

I was particularly interested in Marianne Hester's chapter because, as she acknowledges, I led the evaluation of projects funded by the Home Office (2001-03) to support and protect people under 18 who were involved, or at risk of becoming involved, in prostitution. I was dismayed, however, to find that in her discussion of interventions with young people, these had been conflated with projects that were primarily working with adults: Kirklees (providing support and exiting) and Nottingham (focusing on policing and enforcement approaches). There was no consideration of the ways in which children and young people may be more vulnerable than adults, either generally or specifically in relation to their risk of violence. Neither was there any mention of the Department for Children, Schools and Families' 2009 guidance, which suggests that local safeguarding children boards should adopt a twin approach when responding to young people's involvement: developing strategies to identify and protect young people on the one hand, while proactively prosecuting those involved in abusing them on the other.

A final point is that the references in many of the book's chapters are dated. In chapter two, for example, the most recent reference is for 2001.

Nevertheless, this book will be of interest to those concerned with the most extreme forms of violence to which street sex workers are subject; to those who want to know about the differences between those who murder sex workers and those who murder other women; or to those thinking about alternatives to the current regime for regulating sex work in the UK.

Safer Sex in the City: The Experience and Management of Street Prostitution

Edited by David Canter, Maria Ioannou and Donna Youngs. Ashgate, 236pp, £55.00. ISBN 9780754626152. Published 20 July 2009.

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