Is it time to drop the term ‘prostitution’ from policy discourse?

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  • 1 University of Bristol, UK
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In this paper, I wish to explore whether it is time to drop the use of the term ‘prostitution’ in English policy discourse. I argue here that ‘prostitution’ is a culturally loaded term and is insufficiently precise in describing the different contexts in which the exchange of sex for money or other resources between adults takes place. This lack of clarity has implications for policy action, which in turn materially affects the lives of those involved in the sex industry. I draw on thesis of the eroticisation of dominance as a productive framework for explaining why violence, harm and coercion are possible within the exchange of sex for money (or other resource), though not inevitable. I propose that we distinguish four categories: sex entrepreneurship, sex work, survival sex and sexual exploitation. For some scholars, such categorisations overlook how disparate practices are connected (), most obviously by patriarchy or economic inequality. However, I believe we need to see both the connections and the distinctions: if we conflate different practices, we lose the particularity of the contexts of practice and weaken the rationale for policy action. Worse, policy interventions may be harmful. I suggest these four categories can help us identify and distinguish between structural and interpersonal harm and structural and interpersonal coercion and help to formulate attendant criminal justice and social justice measures.

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