Common Prostitutes and Ordinary Citizens: Commercial Sex in by Julia Laite (auth.)

By Julia Laite (auth.)

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Extra resources for Common Prostitutes and Ordinary Citizens: Commercial Sex in London, 1885–1960

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87 Much to the chagrin of moral reformer and police officer alike, it continued to operate in this way even in the face of repression. While theories about the economics of prohibition are one useful way to assess the impact of criminalization, they often fail to take adequate account of the actions of individuals within these wider economies, and seem to suggest that the people against whom laws were directed – in this case, women who sold sex – were controlled on either side of the criminalization Introduction 21 equation: hemmed in and harassed by official laws and policies, exploited and subjugated by criminal organizations.

Most ironically of all, a campaign that began as a battle cry against exploitation developed into a crusade that came down the hardest upon prostitute women themselves, who experienced increased marginalization, vulnerability, exploitation and punishment. More harm, we might say, than good. This is not to say that this book charts a kind of journey from a wonderful sex-work arcadia to a hellish modern reality: prostitution was a difficult job and a source of violence and exploitation before the renewed late nineteenth-century drive to repress it, and could also be engaged in relatively positive and safe ways afterward (though the opportunities for doing so were most certainly lessened).

91 Prostitutes did not resist and negotiate state and social control because they were pluckier or more resourceful than other people, but rather because they were just like other people. Neither did resistance on the part of prostitute women have to take positive forms: methods used by women to avoid the state’s control, for instance, included the surrender of their autonomy to third parties and the compromise of their personal safety. Tactics of resistance were also not always deployed by the women themselves: interested third parties such as pimps, and the frustratingly invisible clients of prostitutes, also resisted state control.

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