THE POLITICS OF PROSTITUTION: Women's Movements, Democratic States and the Globalisation of Sex Commerce

By Thoms, Karen M. | Military Review, March/April 2008 | Go to article overview

THE POLITICS OF PROSTITUTION: Women's Movements, Democratic States and the Globalisation of Sex Commerce


Thoms, Karen M., Military Review


THE POLITICS OF PROSTITUTION: Women's Movements, Democratic States and the Globalisation of Sex Commerce, Ed. Joyce Outshoorn, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2004, 329 pages, $29.99.

While The Politics of Prostitution might seem an odd choice for review in a military journal, its selection reflects a growing awareness of the military's recent actions to combat prostitution, an initiative that is part of a larger fight against the dangerous international scourge of human trafficking. The Department of Defense has mandated education about human trafficking, and commanders have made establishments suspected of human trafficking activities off-limits to military personnel. Also, recognizing that service members-especially those stationed or deployed overseas-are an obvious market for sex traffickers, President George W. Bush signed an executive order in 2005 to clarify that "patronizing a prostitute" is a violation of Article 134, Uniform Code of Military Justice, in the Manual for Courts-Martial.

These new policies have been largely influenced by an understanding that prostitution has direct links to human trafficking. Along with arms and drug trafficking, human trafficking finances criminal organizations that support terrorism, the killing of Soldiers, and regional instability. So, to say nothing of social justice considerations, fighting human trafficking activities such as prostitution is a national security issue, one that is directly tied to the military's mission of fighting and winning our country's wars.

While The Politics of Prostitution does not discuss the U.S. military in particular, it does address human trafficking and its links to prostitution and prostitution policy. The book is a collection of studies by the Research Network on Gender Politics and the State (RNGS) that examine prostitution policy debates in a dozen Western democratic nations: Australia, Austria, Britain, Canada, Finland, France, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the United States.

The RNGS characterizes approaches to prostitution policies as abolitionist (punish the Johns but not the prostitutes), prohibitionist (punish everyone involved), or regulatory (subject prostitution services to state control). These competing approaches appear both within countries and across borders. Each of the book's chapters covers a different country; the authors give a clear and concise description of the main debates over prostitution policy in each country, and they identify the groups that helped craft the policy. The chapter on prostitution policy in Italy, for example, outlines the continued debates over the 1958 Merlin Law-debates generated largely by Catholic and feminist concerns (which are often at odds) and brought into public view because of increasing human trafficking activities in that country resulting from the breakup of the Soviet Union.

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