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How Decriminalisation Reduces Harm Within and Beyond Sex Work: Sex Work Abolitionism as the “Cult of Female Modesty” in Feminist Form

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jats:titleAbstract</jats:title>jats:sec jats:titleBackground</jats:title> jats:pSex work has a long history and takes different forms, but the associated precarity and danger, particularly where poorer women and minorities are concerned, is undeniable. There is growing evidence that decriminalisation reduces harm, and, indeed, it is the policy approach favoured by sex worker groups. Despite this, many feminists instead seek to “end demand” for paid sex, recommending legal penalties for sex buyers, with the aim of abolishing sex work altogether.</jats:p> </jats:sec>jats:sec jats:titleMethod</jats:title> jats:pThis paper takes a comparative approach, examining why “end demand” is applied to sex work but not to care work. Abolition is typically justified both in terms of reducing harm to sex workers and to women more generally, with sex work’s very existence being thought to perpetuate the notion that all women are “sex objects.” Women are, however, not only exposed to harm within care work but are also commonly stereotyped as care givers, and in a way that has similarly been argued to contribute to gender inequality.</jats:p> </jats:sec>jats:sec jats:titleResults</jats:title> jats:pBy comparing sex work with care work, this paper reveals the logical inconsistency in the “end demand” approach; unlike with sex work, there is little push to criminalise those who purchase care or other such domestic labour services. By revealing the moral nature of abolitionist arguments, and the disrespectful way in which sex workers are characterised within radical feminist literature, it argues that, rather than reducing harm, the “end demand” approach perpetuates harm, conspiring in the notion that “immodest” women are the cause of social ills.</jats:p> </jats:sec>jats:sec jats:titleConclusions</jats:title> jats:pReducing the harm that sex workers—and women more generally—face requires feminists to challenge “the cult of female modesty”, rather than to be complicit in it.</jats:p> </jats:sec>



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Sexuality Research and Social Policy

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC