‘I Wouldn’t Call the Cops if I was Being Bashed to Death’: Sex Work, Whore Stigma and the Criminal Legal System
Discourse on sex work is replete with narratives of risk and danger, predominantly focused on violence and disease. However, the risks instigated by police, maintained by the criminal justice system and sanctioned by the state—criminal laws, licensing laws and targeted policing—receive far less attention. This paper responds to this gap in three ways. First, we examine how stigma manifests in sex workers’ experiences of Australian policing, which act to disincentivise sex workers from accessing criminal legal mechanisms. Second, we illustrate how sex workers are denied victim status as they are seen by law as ‘irresponsible citizens’ and blamed for their experiences of crime. Third, we argue that these factors create conditions in which sex workers must constantly assess risks to access safety and legal redress while structural sex work stigma persists unabated. We conclude that ‘whore stigma’ is entrenched in the criminal legal system and requires a systematic response that necessitates but goes beyond the decriminalisation of sex work.
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