Understanding Sexual Violence in Sex Working Populations: Law, Legal Consciousness and Legal Practice in Four Countries

Sex workers, especially street-based workers, sex workers of color and transgender sex workers are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence on the job.  Sex workers face limited options for reporting, have trouble being believed, face bias in the criminal justice system, and have been mostly left out of public conversations around “Me Too.”

How can we change this?  We know that the political-legal context can greatly affect the 45% to 75% chance sex workers have of experiencing sexual violence on the job  but we don’t have good evidence of exactly how.

Our research project will explore how the socio-legal context in four different legal environments shape the experiences of sexual violence among people engaging in sex work by comparing four different legal environments: legalisation (Nevada USA), criminalisation (Northern Ireland), decriminalisation (New Zealand) and partial criminalisation (Great Britain).

Using an innovative multi method approach using peer expert advisors, we explore the interaction between

  1. legal consciousness (how people in sex work interpret law, consent, their rights, how or whether to report),
  2. legal norms (legal theory, case rulings, legal codes)
  3. legal practices (what police, lawyers, judges actually do) affects sexual violence against sex workers

and how this differs by gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, citizenship, and sex market in different legal regimes.

Our comparative study will uncover the various layers regulating sexual autonomy for marginalised peoples and point to the specific factors that impact the negotiation, experiences, and disposition of crimes of sexual violence in different socio/legal contexts. This can only help further justice for sex workers and other vulnerable populations.

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