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Ethical and Human Rights Issues in Coercive Interventions With Sex Workers

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DOI: 10.1177/0886109913505043
2013 28: 344Affilia
Stéphanie Wahab and Meg Panichelli
Ethical and Human Rights Issues in Coercive Interventions With Sex Workers
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Ethical and Human
Rights Issues in Coercive
Interventions With
Sex Workers
´phanie Wahab
and Meg Panichelli
Sex work reemerged as a spotlight issue within feminist arenas in the 1960s. The interest in ‘‘pros-
titution’’ reform during the 1960s came about in much the same way it had in the past, that is, it rode
on the coattails of other social movements (Hobson, 1987). As the civil rights movement led a heigh-
tened awareness of all human rights, individuals began to protest governmental interference in pri-
vate sexual acts. Civil libertarian lawyers and feminist activists contested prostitution laws and
social injustices against sex workers.
The relationship between some strands of feminism and sex work is often polarized and rocky at
best. In fact, the contemporary feminist debates on sex work, which began in the 1960s related to
pornography and prostitution, have often been referred to as the feminist sex wars (Hollibaugh,
2000; Lerum, 1998; Sloan & Wahab, 2000; Zatz, 1997). On one side of the debate are sex workers
and feminists who emphasize the importance of sex workers’ rights and understand sex work as
potentially liberating and empowering. On the other side are those who believe sex work is exploi-
tive, casting sex workers as coerced victims.
Whether social workers think that sex work is a form of violence, legitimate work, or something
much more complicated that cannot be reduced to the rhetoric of the feminist sex wars, it is time
to seriously grapple with the ethical considerations involved with social work practice focused on
people in the sex industry.
Social workers should be deeply troubled by social work interventions that target individuals for
arrest as a means of providing services. Specifically, we call attention to social work collaborations with
law enforcement that target or end in the arrest of sex workers. While specific events in Arizona during
the week of May 16, 2013, sparked the writing of this editorial, the issues discussed below bring into
question ethical social work practice with sex workers including practice with oppressed and margin-
alized individuals and groups. Specifically, we challenge the assumption that arresting (or participating
University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
Portland State University, Portland, OR, USA
Corresponding Author:
´phanie Wahab, School of Social Work, Portland State University, P.O. Box 751, Portland, OR, 97207, USA.
Affilia: Journal of Women and Social
28(4) 344-349
ªThe Author(s) 2013
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DOI: 10.1177/0886109913505043
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in the arrestof) people ‘‘for their own good’’ constitutes good or ethical social work practice. Rather, we
believe that targeting people for arrest under the guise of helping them violates numerous ethical stan-
dards as well as the humanity of people engaged in the sex industry. We are also concerned that this
approach constitutes an act of structural violence against individuals who already frequently report neg-
ative, discriminatory, and often violent encounters with law enforcement including people with precar-
ious migratory or citizenship status, poor, youth, transgender, and people of color. Structural violenceis
a form of violence perpetuated by institutions and systems that harms people such as racism, classism,
sexism, heterosexism, and ableism, nationalism, and adultism (Galtung, 1969).
During the week of May 16, 2013,
Project Reaching Out to the Sexually Exploited (ROSE)—a col-
laboration between the Phoenix Police Department, Arizona State University (ASU) School of Social
Work, and a number of local service organizations, conducted raids during two 12-hr periods targeting
workers within the sex industry for arrest. Sex workers deemed eligible for services were offered, as an
alternative to criminal charges,a 6-month prostitution diversion program.In order to access the program,
the arrestee must have no prior arrests for sex work, no outstanding warrants, and cannot be found in
possession of any drugs at the time of arrest. These requirements alone make a significant number of
individuals targeted for arrest ineligible for servicesconsequently placing them in a position where they
face prosecution and jail time. It is here that the ethical and human rights questions begin to emerge.
Prostitution Diversion Programs
While a full discussion (and critique) of prostitution diversion programs extends beyond the scope of
the issue we raise in this editorial, it is worth mentioning that there is little empirical evidence that
prostitution diversion programs ‘‘help’’ sex workers or reduce rates of prostitution (Quinn, 2006).
Shdaimah and Wiechelt (2012) point out that, while diversion programs are often hailed as progres-
sive alternatives to traditional criminal justice approaches to certain crimes, many legal scholars
have questioned and critiqued diversion programs on the basis of equity and procedural concern (Orr
et al., 2009), efficacy (Bolt, 2010), and constitutional concerns such as double jeopardy (i.e., when
prosecution on the original prostitution charge is enacted and a conviction with punishment occurs
as a result of an individual being unable to meet the program requirements) and lack of authority
(Brown vs. State of Maryland, 2009). Specific critiques and problems with prostitution diversion
programs argue that they tend to ‘‘encourage special interest control of criminal courts, foster unde-
sirable police and judicial practices, and fail to meaningfully address societal problems, specifically
the criminalization or prostitution’’ (Quinn, 2006, p. 145). Special interest control of prostitution
diversion programs include, but are not limited to, politicians, police officers, business people, dis-
trict attorneys, and social workers interested in suppressing sex work for religious, moral, social, and
political reasons. These particular stakeholders stand to benefit from prostitution diversion pro-
grams, as they may be viewed as resolving a social problem, ‘‘tough on crime’’ and/or saviors of
those incapable of helping or saving themselves. Social workers and social service organization
stand to benefit from such programs through jobs, grants, funding, and yes. ... publications.
While prostitution diversion programs with social work involvement are not unique to Phoenix
(Wahab, 2005, 2006), this is the first highly publicized instance, we are aware of, where social work-
ers and a School of Social Work advocated for targeting sex workers through law enforcement (City
of Phoenix, 2013: KTVK, 2013a; 2013b).
Ethical Principles: Human Rights and Social Justice
We now turn to the heart of our outrage. Programs like Project ROSE cause harm ‘‘under the cover
of kindness’’ (Margolin, 1997). Despite claims made in 2012 after a similar sting that ‘‘clients
received options for safe housing, crisis mental health counseling, medical services, options for
Wahab and Panichelli 345
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detox and drug treatment, food, clothes and their initial interview for the Diversion Program provided
by Catholic Charities, and most significantly, the opportunity to change their life’’ (
police/R.O.S.E.ii.html), targeting people for arrest in order to offer services is a grave form of coercion
that violates numeroussocial work ethical standards across the National Association of Social Workers
(NASW) Code of Ethics (Standards 1 and 6), Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) Educational
Policy and Accreditation Standards (Policies 2.1.2 and 2.1.5), and the International Federation of
Social Work (IFSW) Ethical Principles (Principles 4.1 [1 and 2] and 4.2 [3–5]). Furthermore, provid-
ing social supports and services through criminal courts, even if on a voluntary basis, assumes that
participants in these programs should be under surveillance by the criminal justice system.
Under CSWE Ethical Standard # 1 and IFSW’s Ethical Principle #4 (Human Rights and Human
Dignity), interventions like Project ROSE violate standards of informed consent and individuals’
rights to full participation. Since individuals are not consenting to being targeted by massive police
(in this case 125 officers) sting operations (to be offered services or conversely jail time) where is the
informed consent? In addition, if targeted sex workers (and people profiled as sex workers) reject the
‘offer’’ to enter the diversion program and/or if they fail to successfully complete a diversion pro-
gram (their statistics report that successful completion of the program ranges between 24.7%(Proj-
ect ROSE II) and 32.6%(Project ROSE I),
they face criminal prosecution. In addition, the only
services offered to escape prosecution are through a particular diversion program further limiting
the options for support and assistance (Wahab, 2005, 2006).
In Arizona, people arrested under antiprostitution statutes face a mandatory minimum sentence
on their first charge and felony charges after the third arrest. Sex workers with precarious migratory
and citizenship status face deportation. Best Practices and Policy Project (2013) report that Marcia
Powell, a woman serving a 27-month sentence in Arizona for solicitation of prostitution, died in May
2009 after being left in a prison holding cage in the blazing sun without water. Not only would Mar-
cia have been ineligible to receive services through Project ROSE had she been targeted by the sting,
but she would have likely faced a prison sentence due to several prior arrests for prostitution. Ulti-
mately, however, Marcia died in the ‘‘safety’’ of the Arizona prison system because she was a sex
worker incarcerated for her own good.
Furthermore, we argue that social work participation in the creation and facilitation of police
sting operations, including those designed from a stance of innocence (Rossiter, 2001), to ‘‘offer ser-
vices’’ violates IFSW’s Ethical Principle #4 (Social Justice), CSWE’s Educational Policy 2.1.5
(Advance Human Rights and Social and Economic Justice), and NASW’s ethical standards con-
cerned with Social and Political Action (6.04). This is especially problematic as there is no body
of rigorous empirical evidence that indicates that prostitution diversion programs facilitate social
justice for those enrolled in the programs. If an apprehended sex worker rejects the offer of diver-
sion, or is denied entry into the diversion program, how is the project ‘‘ensuring that all people have
equal access to the resource’’ (National Association of Social Workers, 2008)?
Finally, if we accept that many people who work in sex work do so because they are poor and/or
have limited options for alternative employment (though this is certainly not the case for all those
engaged in trading sexual services), how are social workers ‘‘[d]istributing resources equitably’’ or
‘[c]hallenging unjust policies and practices’’ (International Federation of Social Work, 2012) when
they are advocating for and assisting in the arrest of sex workers who are mostly poor, people of
color, and often identify as transgender? For some of the sex workers caught up in these sweeps,
Project ROSE with its additional 125 officers hastens the path toward a felony charge.
Structural Violence Against Minoritized Individuals and Groups
It is well documented that the most marginalized of sex workers are the ones who are most targeted
by the intersections of oppression within the social, medical, and legal systems (e.g., see any of the
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following literature on the prison industrial complex, state violence, and marginalization of sex
workers: Brooks, 2007; Davis & Brooks, 1999; INCITE!, 2011; Stanley & Smith, 2011; Stern,
2012). We also know that ‘‘the stigma and criminalization surrounding sex work do not befall every-
one equally’’ (A SISTAH IN STRUGGLE & Kirby, 2011). Numerous scholars, activists, and news
sources provide proof that sex workers working on the streets are the most targeted for arrest. Con-
sequently, some have argued for an anticriminalization movement among sex work rights advocates
(Koyama, 2011) that would more effectively target the oppression that enforces criminalization and
the targeting of sex workers because of their actual or perceived social identities.
to those of us who are street-based, immigrants, youth, transgender, etc. this agenda appears to be based on
the naı¨ve premise that people engaging in prostitution are targeted by the state because the legis-
lature passed laws to criminalize prostitution. Those of us who live under pervasive surveillance
and criminalization know that the cause and effect run the other way around: we are just targeted
and criminalized for who we are, and the laws are passed by the legislature to justify it and make it
more efficient. (Koyama, 2011)
Social work collaborations that encourage and support the targeting of marginalized and
oppressed individuals must be questioned, if not stopped. Collaborations like the one between
ASU’s School of Social Work and the Phoenix Police Department, despite proclamations of good
intentions, perpetuate racism, classism, sexism, transphobia, and xenophobia; all forms of social
injustice and human rights violations that social workers are bound to by numerous ethical standards
to work against.
It is no wonder that some sex workers fear social workers as much if not more than the police, as
we are legitimately seen as the service gatekeepers as well as the ones who take their children away
(Weiner, 1996). Social work has a long history of engagement and practice with sex workers, which
reinforces notions of social workers as agents of social and moral control (Wahab, 2002). While
many social workers have worked hard through policy and practice arenas over the years to repair
and reconfigure social work’s relationship (characterized by mistrust, disempowerment, social, and
moral control) to the sex industry, social work efforts geared toward arresting sex workers ‘‘for their
own good’’ violate the ethical codes while enacting structural violence in the name of helping.
Whether you believe that sex work ¼sex trafficking or whether you believe that there is no universal
sex work experience and that sex workers can make their own decisions about what they need and
when they need it, Schools of Social Work and social work in general should not be in the business
of arresting people for their own good. If we believe that arresting people in order to coerce them
into ‘‘treatment’’ and services is our only option for engagement, then we need to critically examine
our relationships with sex workers and sex worker groups. The challenges social workers face in
‘reaching’’ sex workers with our offers of help speak to the serious limitations of our approaches
and attitudes toward sex workers rather than problems inherent to sex work and sex workers.
Finally, we need only to look at the history of social work to learn and relearn important lessons
from the profession about paternalism and gender bias in the name of intervening on behalf of others
‘for their own good.’’ The paternalistic viewpoint (saving people, coercing into treatment, etc.) has
been repeated throughout the profession with various marginalized groups. Friendly visitors in the
earlier days of social work intervened with the ‘‘poor’’ perhaps because of altruism, but also because
we thought poverty was a result of individual shortcomings. Also, social workers removed children
from indigenous communities because we misunderstood parenting practices that were not the same
as a white culture. We must remember that any attempt toward competent social work practice
should be multidimensional along individual, community, and systems change, and we see no evi-
dence of Project ROSE engaged in macro-level work. Let us learn from our historical mistakes,
rather than repeat them.
Wahab and Panichelli 347
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1. Three other similar sweeps have been conducted in September 2011, April and October 2012.
2. While the title of this article states ‘‘by not arresting prostitutes,’’ another news report both shows a woman
in handcuffs and has Phoenix Police Officer James Homes stating that they are arrested. See http://www. Sex workers caught up
in the stings have also reported to sex workers’ rights groups that they were indeed arrested.
3. These statistics come from a personal communication with Dr. Dominique Roe-Sepowitz on July 19, 2013.
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Author Biographies
´phanie Wahab is an associate professor in the School of Social Work at Portland State University; email:
Meg Panichelli is a doctoral student in the School of Social Work at Portland State University. Her research
focuses on sex work, privilege, oppression, and the intersections of feminisms, sexualities, and social work.
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... Feeblemindedness was grounded in the idea that "an overdeveloped body signaled an underdeveloped mind" (Wahab, 2002, p. 49;Kennedy, 2008). Practitioners of various stripes argued that there was a link between "female criminality" and "low intelligence" (Abrams & Curran, 2000, p. 60;Wahab & Panichelli, 2013). Furthermore, they believed that promiscuous women could spread feeblemindedness across cities. ...
... Police, judges, and social workers marked certain women as sexually promiscuous but amenable to intervention. Professionals sent these women to reformatories (Wahab & Panichelli, 2013). Workers at reformatories taught "wayward" women domestic skills such as cooking and cleaning and instilled Victorian values about sexual abstinence and family life to counter sexual promiscuity (Wahab, 2002). ...
... Capous-Desyllas et al. (2021) found that criminalized sex workers often lost employment or custody of their children, lost affordable housing, or were unable to attend school. With these shortcomings in mind, it is troubling that fear of consequences such as jail sentences motivate participants to remain engaged with PDPs even when their needs are not being met (Wahab & Panichelli, 2013). As Jungleib (2018) notes, efforts at rescuing sex workers are often the "largest barrier" to leaving the sex trade. ...
This article engages with the field of social work's role in humanitarian and criminal legal responses to sex work in the United States over the last century. Our historical review reveals that, through interdisciplinary collaboration in the criminalization and rehabilitation of sex workers, social workers have contributed to the transformation of “prostitution” from an issue of sex workers’ rights to a psychological, criminal legal, and medical phenomenon. This has exacerbated the harm and stigma experienced by sex workers. In exploring social work interventions on sex work from the Progressive Era through the rise of neoliberalism, this article places its modern iteration, prostitution diversion programming, within the context of social work's carceral history with sex workers. We choose these periods not for their chronicity, but rather for the salient themes in these historical interventions that characterize modern diversion programming: power and control, punitive service provision, patriarchal rescue, and carceral feminism. To align with social work's mandate for social justice and client self-determination, this article offers policy and practice implications grounded in the decriminalization of sex work and divestment from the police and courts. Alternative service approaches spearheaded by sex workers are explored and placed within the context of labor, racial, gender, and immigration justice.
... In a study conducted by Peled and Levin-Rotberg (2013), two narratives were found among child protection officers, and both help to silence mothering in prostitution. This discrimination against SWs represents a form of structural violence (Oliveira 2011) -a form of violence perpetrated by institutions and systems (Wahab and Panichelli 2013). The symbolic violence is exerted by the services that reinforce stigma and do not recognize SWs' self-determination and ability (Oliveira 2011 ...
... Regardless of the different perspectives on sex work -as a form of violence or as legitimate work -social work aims towards social justice, and social workers should take an ethical stance to ensure that SWs' needs are met, and not be coercive or punitive (Wahab and Panichelli 2013). Furthermore, social work practice is not only about the assessment and meeting of SWs' needs, but it is also about the defining, understanding and guaranteeing of human rights (Ife 2008). ...
Sex workers (SWs) based in Portugal are not (yet) organized in a trade union or as a social movement. However, they are not voiceless. This study aims to identify the needs of nineteen street-based female SWs, considering the rights they advocated. Data were gathered during participatory action research and were collected through informal interviews, in-depth semi-structured interviews and group discussions. We identified three major categories of rights: the right to work, to be protected by the law and to be free from violence. We also identified barriers they encountered in the process of being heard, including stigma. These findings suggest that they have opinions and the will to make a difference, but they claim from an individual standpoint. Some recommendations to social work practice, such as right-based and relationship-based approaches, and research with SWs are suggested to promote human rights and SWs’ participation in the public sphere.
... Although professional ethics are a set of rules that guide professionals and protect everyone with whom they establish professional relations, professionals have often experienced or witnessed ethical violations when they worked with sex workers. While the social work profession, whose aim is to provide human rights and social justice despite all pressures, accepts the ill-treatment of sex workers as a serious ethical problem and advises to hold on to ethical principles (Wahab & Panichelli, 2013), professionals have witnessed the ethical violations committed by their colleagues. The conscious choice of other professionals not to provide services to sex workers, but to ask them private questions that they do not need for their professional practice but for their personal curiosity are among the leading ethical violations. ...
This study was aimed at revealing the professional difficulties and problems faced by social service professionals who provide services to sex workers. We conducted in-depth interviews with 11 professionals working with sex workers in Turkey and focused on their working experiences. The interviews revealed that professionals had such problems as pressure, institutional loneliness, burnout, and lack of policy in institutions. They experienced professional problems such as insecurity, ethical violations, ethical dilemmas, secondary trauma, involuntary clients, and lack of professional knowledge. Despite these problems, the fact that professionals who mobilize resources for sex workers are not supported with protective and preventive measures has deepened their problems, and that professionals have not taken a course on sex work during their education makes it difficult for them. It is recommended to establish solidarity networks for the well-being of professionals. The educational content of undergraduate programs through which professionals who are to provide services in the field of social services are trained should be updated and such services should be expanded by taking the needs of sex workers into account. Researchers should generate knowledge by evaluating the problems in this area in evidence-based way and apply techniques to increase the validity of their studies.
... (Brasileña, 27 años) Ante los obstáculos con que a menudo se topan en el Sistema Nacional de Sanidad, muchas de estas mujeres, sobre todo las migrantes, optan por contratar seguros de salud que les permiten, cuando lo necesitan, cubrir la mayor parte de los costes de las consultas rutinarias, los análisis clínicos y los exámenes médicos en servicios sanitarios privados: Una vez se constata que las trabajadoras sexuales se enfrentan a diferentes manifestaciones de estigmatización, de exclusión, de escasez de redes de apoyo social (formal e informal) y a la discrecionalidad en el acceso a la atención sanitaria, queda patente que se encuentran al margen de derechos humanos fundamentales, en una condición existencial marcada por un sinfín de expresiones de "impropiedad" (41) , de acentuada desprotección sistémica y ausencia de cuidados. Por consiguiente, están expuestas a la "violencia estructural" (42) , una manifestación de violencia despersonalizada y difusa, inscrita en las estructuras sociales y que deviene de la negación de derechos, de las asimetrías sociales y de los procesos de marginalización y sufrimiento, incluso en algunos casos desencadenados por quienes se supone que deberían proporcionarles protección (43) . ...
Full-text available
Teniendo en cuenta las marginaciones que recaen sobre la prostitución, analizamos los retos sociales y sanitarios que subyacen al ejercicio del trabajo sexual y la intervención realizada en este ámbito. Partimos de las experiencias y entendimientos de trabajadoras sexuales que ejercen su actividad en la ciudad de Oporto (Portugal), en un intento de comprender cuáles son las principales vulnerabilidades a las que se enfrentan y cómo viven la relación con los servicios del Estado y con la intervención sociosanitaria dirigida a ellas. La investigación de campo siguió un enfoque cualitativo basado en un estudio de caso de un proyecto de intervención. La recolección de datos se llevó a cabo, entre los meses de marzo y junio de 2019, mediante investigación documental, ejercicios de observación participante y entrevistas semiestructuradas al personal técnico y a seis trabajadoras sexuales. Como resultado de esta investigación, se ha constatado que las trabajadoras del sexo están sometidas a graves restricciones que limitan su recurso a las redes de apoyo informales y su acceso a los dispositivos de protección del Estado en términos de apoyo social y atención sanitaria. Es más, el proyecto de intervención de reducción de riesgos que apoya a estas mujeres, aunque valorado, asume un fuerte sesgo de prevención epidemiológica y favorece un enfoque individualista y asistencialista, dejando al descubierto otras vulnerabilidades sociales identificadas por ellas mismas.
Prostitution diversion programs (PDPs) have grown out of the perception that existing criminal justice responses to the exchange of sex for money are ineffective or unfairly punish people for behaviors they prefer to avoid. While PDPs are firmly nested within criminal justice systems and do not alter the legal status of prostitution, they seek to combine penal and therapeutic approaches to bring about long‐term desistance from prostitution. PDPs vary across jurisdictions with regard to whom they target, what criminal consequences participants are diverted from, and their content. These programs present both opportunities and challenges for criminal justice systems and program participants. While there is some initial evidence of cost savings, program completion, and program satisfaction, the programs have little ability to address larger structural forces that contribute to engagement in prostitution. PDPs will evolve with changes to existing legal responses to prostitution and as they are further evaluated.
Quantitative studies in the United States that identify involvement in the sex trades predominantly use a single item to address a complex, stigmatized phenomenon. This item typically does not differentiate between in-person or virtual forms, nor does it assess the associated compensation types, circumstances, and perceived consequences. University students' involvement in the sex trades is also critically understudied. Therefore, we sought to adapt, develop, and refine a multiitem measure from the perspectives of undergraduate and graduate students who were familiar with sex trading. We conducted 34 cognitive interviews with students to understand how they perceived items on our measure. Results indicated that language used in single item studies may not reflect participants' views of the sex trades. Participants suggested the necessity of introducing survey items with inclusive introductory statements that recognize the range of circumstances, benefits, and potential harms. Items that address the circumstances of sex trading (including economic needs, wants, exploitation, empowerment/pleasure) were important in capturing diverse experiences. We make recommendations for multi-item measures to identify involvement in and circumstances of the sex trades. Implications for future research using this measure to broaden the field's understanding of the sex trades are discussed.
Despite the increased popularity of exit programmes targeting people involved in sex work, the research community has yet not critically scrutinised policies that regulate these programmes. This study aimed to start filling this research gap by studying the example of Denmark, a country that has implemented exit programmes although sex work remains partly decriminalised since 1999. In specific, this study has analysed policy documents that were formulated by the government and four Danish municipalities in relation to the government's latest grant called ‘Exit Package for People in Prostitution’, which was issued in 2019 to finance municipal exit programmes running between 2020 and 2023. The key finding indicates that the ‘problem’ of sex work is the sex work of the ‘vulnerable’ sex workers. Their sex work must be reduced because they risk being seriously harmed by their sex work activities. Implications from the findings of the study are discussed.
Despite the recent expansion of sex trafficking awareness, prevention, and aftercare services, knowledge about sex trafficking remains limited by the systemic exclusion of survivors’ voices and strengths from sex trafficking epistemology. Notably, little research examines sex trafficking survivors’ experiences, their critiques of the counter-trafficking movement, nor their recommendations for how the counter-trafficking movement could be improved to better meet survivors’ needs. In this qualitative study, we adhered to an Intersectional-Standpoint Methodology (ISM) to explore sex trafficking survivors’ perceptions of the counter-trafficking movement and their barriers to sex trafficking exit. The results of this study suggest that survivors encounter numerous barriers to sex trafficking exit, including internal barriers, social barriers, and systemic-institutional barriers. Results point towards recommendations for improving service delivery systems by building upon sex trafficking survivors’ strengths and resilience and by reducing their many barriers to exit. By implementing these recommendations, counter-trafficking advocates at all levels of practice can increase sex trafficking survivors’ access to effective, survivor-informed aftercare services.
The work of community-based organizations (CBOs), organizations that represent a particular community, can be an impetus for social change and advocacy. By drawing on the institutional entrepreneurship perspective, this study seeks to understand how CBOs attempt to challenge dominant carceral logics (referred to as a punishment-oriented mind-set) in operation across two fields: (1) the public-school system and (2) human service providers that work with sex workers. Utilizing a comparative case study design in the city of Chicago, this study discusses how CBOs leverage their legitimacy and relationships to identify contradictions within the carceral logics in city-wide fields and promote alternative solutions, namely restorative justice in public schools and decriminalization of sex work. CBO strategies and goals differed based on their field position and existing support, so we discuss how CBOs can advance alternate logics and promote change depending on their contexts.
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Sex work and prostitution are the focus of debate among feminists. This article explores the long history of the debate on sex work and presents recommendations for a policy statement for the profession.
Full-text available
Sex work and prostitution are the focus of debate among feminists. This article explores the long history of the debate on sex work and presents recommendations for a policy statement for the profession.
Full-text available
This article develops a feminist theory of prostituion that accounts for its pervasive criminalization. Existing theories tend to reduce prostitution to a form of sexuality or a form of paid work. What is most threatening about commercial sex, however, is its admixture of the erotic and the economic within a single transaction. Criminalization reasserts a divide between market work and personal or familial intimacy both by punishing its crossing and by tying prostitution to illicit sexuality. Prostitution, in its particular institutional forms and cultural significance, is thus in part a product rather than simply an object of criminal law. Therefore, subordinating aspects of contemporary prostitution may best be combatted through decriminizatlion. Moreover, the greatest liberatory potential may flow from articulating prostitution as sex work, where the dignity and protections of labor coexist with intimate relations and where sex acts may not reveal sexual identity.
This paper concerns directions for education in critical social work. I have to confess at the outset that the topic unnerves me. I find that the more I teach, the more perplexed I become at the responsibility for social work education from a critical perspective. I think this is because my thoughts about social work seem to be taking me farther and farther away from what is possible to teach and still call it social work. I would love the simplicity of teaching students to “do” social work. But I am deeply suspicious of the innocence of “doing social work.” So on my worst days, I believe that I am hiding my deepest suspicions about the project of social work from my dewy-eyed students who “just want to help” while I try tactfully to get them to be a little more suspicious of impulses that seem quite pure to them. On my best days, I sometimes think that chronic suspicion might be a form of action which can fuel some kind of radical democracy that resists the dire consequences for people of the current global order. The project of this paper is to trace my relation to the concepts of suspicion and innocence in social work and then raise questions about what this means for directions in social work education.
This article discusses some findings of a qualitative evaluation of Salt Lake City’s Prostitution Diversion Project (conducted in 2003-2004) to expose some of the challenges and opportunities of mixed-theory projects. The findings focus specifically on project stakeholders’ recommendations for improving the program. Many of these recommendations are related to the tensions that manifested between the two major stakeholders: Criminal Justice Services and the Harm Reduction Project. The unlikely relationship between these stakeholders is what distinguished the Salt Lake City project from other prostitution-diversion programs in the United States and Canada.
As social workers are increasingly collaborating with the criminal justice system through diversion programs to create and provide alternative approaches to working with legal offenders, practitioners and researchers must consider evaluating such projects. While there exist numerous prostitution diversion programs for both sex workers and clients of commercial sex workers, often referred to as ‘John Schools’, throughout the USA and Canada, there have been no published evaluations, until now, of any of the programs for commercial sex workers. This article presents the research methods and discussions concerning some of the study findings of a qualitative evaluation of Salt Lake City's Prostitution Diversion Project (PDP). This article explores the usefulness of the PDP by discussing the program's objectives, its strengths and limitations as perceived by the stakeholders. The author discusses how the various stakeholders perceived and experienced the PDP. Discussions in this article pay particular attention to the stakeholders’ experiences of working with and across significant theoretical and practical differences.
This article explores perceptions of 17 women currently or formerly engaged in prostitution regarding Baltimore City's Specialized Prostitution Diversion program. Findings indicate that most perceive the program positively because they are in desperate need of services and because they hope it augurs the readiness of the criminal justice system to understand what leads them to engage in prostitution. Their desire to be treated like “human beings” in need of assistance, which undergirds requests for concrete services, reveals gendered understandings of responsibility and dependence that are compatible with problem-solving models of justice. It is therefore likely to resonate with criminal justice stakeholders.