Why Decriminalise Prostitution? Because Law and Justice Aren’t Always the Same


Leigh Goodmark’s work on domestic violence argues for alternatives to criminal justice to ‘solve’ issues of gendered violence. The criminalisation of sex work and prostitution is rarely discussed in this context—a rather odd omission given the increasing trend towards ‘criminalising demand’ and counter-calls for decriminalisation in this domain. In this article, we bring the two debates into conversation, using Goodmark’s work to bring analytical clarity to the prostitution debate and connect sex work to wider social justice debates in feminist anti-violence circles. We aim to move the conversation beyond retribution and the view that law is justice to outline a vision of justice for sex workers grounded in the principles of rights, recognition and representation. By contextualising the decriminalisation of prostitution within the framework of a wider anti-carceral justice movement, we seek to build alliances for social justice that transcend the current divide.

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Published: 2021-12-01
Pages:52 to 65
Section:Special Issue: Criminalisation and the Violence(s) of the State
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How to Cite
Scoular, J. and FitzGerald, S. (2021) “Why Decriminalise Prostitution? Because Law and Justice Aren’t Always the Same”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 10(4), pp. 52-65. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.1996.

Author Biographies

University of Strathclyde
 United Kingdom

Jane Scoular is a Professor in Law at the University of Strathclyde. Her work is in the field of the legal regulation of commercial sex. She has carried out empirical work on street sex work, a comparative project on European prostitution regimes and was part of Beyond the Gaze team looking at internet sex work. Her scholarship includes books (The Subject of Prostitution: Sex/work, Law and Social Theory, Internet Sex work) and internationally peer-refereed journals (What’s law got to do with it? How and why law matters in the regulation of sex work’ Journal of Law and Society). She is currently leading a comparative international project funded by the ESRC on 'Understanding Sexual Violence in Sex Working Populations'.

University of Oslo

Dr Sharron A. FitzGerald is a social scientist and is currently is a Senior Visiting Scholar at the University of Oslo. Her main teaching and research interests are at the intersection of migration, sexual regulation and law. She is the Founder and Director of the LEX (Law, Gender and Sexuality) international research network and Co-Editor-in Chief of Society & Social Change an open access feminist journal.