Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: What Are the Problems Represented to Be? a Discursive Analysis of Law and Policy in Sweden and Victoria, Australia

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The issue of prostitution has engendered much division amongst feminists, frequently resulting in polemical stances in a polarised debate. A similar pattern has more latterly emerged with respect to sex trafficking. An added difficulty is that statistical evidence regarding these issues is scarce and unreliable. Through a new discursive lens of policy analysis developed by Carol Bacchi (the WPR approach) this paper considers and examines the 'demand side' of prostitution, with particular reference to its relationship with sex trafficking. Two policy and legislative approaches are compared, the Swedish model where the client is criminalized and the Victorian model where the sex industry is legalised and regulated.


Prostitution has long been a feminist concern, causative of much debate and controversy. Historically, feminists have focussed on the harms of prostitution and, in legal terms, on prohibition through the criminalisation of the prostitute, the most common legal remedy, widely considered unjust and discriminatory. Problems have arisen in terms of agreeing on alternatives, until relatively recently being either full or limited decriminalisation (the removal of prostitution from the criminal statutes), or legalisation, (prostitution being considered in a legal framework). Whilst many contend that these approaches reflect either sexual liberation, or are the best to protect a vulnerable group of women, others argue that they do more harm to women, as well as normalise what many consider to be an oppressive practice. More recently, a third alternative has emerged, 'the Swedish model', where prostitution is criminalised for all parties except the prostitute. However, this approach has also engendered controversy. Some see it as the most just solution to a problem created by male demand, others argue that it has practical limitations and breaches the rights of sexually consenting adults.

Whereas it is broadly agreed that sex trafficking is unacceptable and a breach of human rights, it is also the case that feminists have more recently divided over this issue. Sex trafficking is a global concern of great complexity, necessitating consideration of '[njational and international economic policies; globalisation, an organised sex industry; countries in financial and political crisis; female poverty that is preyed on by recruiters, traffickers, and pimps; military presence in many parts of the world; racial myths and stereotypes; and women's inequality'.3 Broadly, these can be broken down into factors influencing supply (women's inequality and poverty, etc.) and demand (the desire for women's sexual services) in the context of an industry willing and able to bridge this gap. Contributing to this complexity are difficulties inherent in quantifying the problem of sex trafficking, with available statistics being scarce, hard to interpret, and based largely on estimates.4 The most recent parliamentary research available in Australia suggests that, 'there is no reliable data available anywhere in the world on the true extent of people trafficking, but there is general agreement that the trade is extensive'.5 Relying on data from the United States this report claims that, '800,000 people are trafficked across national borders, which does not include millions trafficked within their own countries. Approximately 80 percent of transnational victims are women and girls and up to 50 percent are minors'.6 Not all of these victims are trafficked for sexual purposes.

1.1 Aims of this Paper: Considering the Problematis ations of Prostitution and Sex trafficking

Accepting that in the bigger picture attention also needs to be paid to the 'supply' issues described above, and, taking as a priori that the prostitution industry is indeed a major endpoint for sex trafficking, this paper, through a discourse analysis of relevant law and policy, considers and examines the 'demand side' of prostitution, with particular reference to its relationship to sex trafficking. …


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