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Social Policy & Society 2:1, 55–63 Printed in the United Kingdom
2003 Cambridge University Press
‘Sleeping with the enemy’? Some Problems with Feminist Abolitionist Calls to Penalise those who Buy Commercial Sex
Julia O’Connell Davidson
School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Nottingham, UK E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Feminists campaigning for the abolition of prostitution have long argued that it is menwho buy sex, rather than prostitute women, who should be penalised and reformed. Inrecentyears,thephenomenonof‘trafﬁcking’inpersonshasprovidedfeministabolitionistswith a more high proﬁle platform from which to lobby on prostitution issues, and theyhave found policy makers increasingly receptive to calls to penalise men who buy sex.This has encouraged some feminist abolitionists to forge alliances with those who would more usually be viewed as ‘enemies’ of feminism and other progressive social movements(police chiefs calling for more extensive police powers and tougher sentencing policy,anti-immigration politicians calling for tighter border controls, and moral conservativesurging a return to ‘family values’). This paper is concerned with the dangers of suchliaisons. It begins with a brief review of the ﬁndings of recent research on the demand for commercial sexual services, then puts forward some reasons why feminist abolitionistsshould be cautious about calling on the state to penalise sex buyers.
Penalize the buyers. The least discussed part of the prostitution and trafﬁcking chain has beenthe men who buy women for sexual exploitation in prostitution, pornography, sex tourism andmail order bride marketing. We cannot shrug our shoulders and say, ‘men are like this’ . . . Wecannot tell women and girls in prostitution that they must continue to do what they do becauseprostitution is inevitable. Rather, our responsibility is to make men change their behaviour byall means available – educational, cultural, and through legislation that penalizes men for thecrime of sexual exploitation. (Raymond, 2001, 9)
Feminist groups campaigning for the abolition of prostitution typically understand malepower as domination, and assume that when men pay for sex they buy mastery of anobjectiﬁed female body. To contract out sexual use of the body thus requires women tosever the integrity of body and self, and so carries grave psychological consequences,
The support of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Save the Children Sweden and SIDA, whichfunded the pilot research discussed in this article, is gratefully acknowledged. Above all the authorwishes to thank Bridget Anderson (Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford)who co-led the pilot study, and Patrizia Testai,
(Italian League Against AIDS), Catania, Italy; JennyGleeson and June Saetang,
(Global Alliance Against Trafﬁc in Women), Bangkok, Thailand;ManjimaBhattacharjya,AbhaDayal,KalpanaViswanathandSeemaSingh,
,NewDelhi,India;Sven-Axel Mansson, Department of Social Work, Goteborg University, Sweden; Ellinor Platzer, Departmentof Sociology, Vaxjo University, Sweden; Anders Lisborg and Morten Lisborg, Centre for DevelopmentResearch, Roskilde University, Denmark; and Dixon Wong, Centre for Japanese Studies, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, who carried out the pilot research. The views expressed in this paper are notnecessarily shared by those who funded and conducted the research.