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A critical account of a 'creeping neo-abolitionism' : regulating prostitution in England and Wales

Scoular, Jane and Carline, Anna (2014) A critical account of a 'creeping neo-abolitionism' : regulating prostitution in England and Wales. Criminology and Criminal Justice, 14 (5). pp. 608-626. ISSN 1748-8958

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An increasingly dominant neo-abolitionist perspective on the issue of prostitution is currently taking hold across Europe. Pioneered in Sweden, this approach considers prostitution as inherently oppressive and seeks to tackle the dynamics of supply and demand by criminalizing purchasers and offering support to sellers who are regarded as victims. Against recent calls from both the European Parliament and an All Party Parliamentary Group on prostitution to universalize this model, we urge caution against moving any further in this direction. Our argument is informed, not only by critical accounts of the ‘Nordic model’, but also by emerging research which highlights the negative effects of recent criminal and ‘therapeutic’ interventions in England and Wales that have already attempted to reduce the demand and supply of commercial sex: the strict liability offence of paying for sexual services of a prostitute subject to exploitation and Engagement and Support Orders (ESOs) for on-street sex workers. We offer both normative insights and draw upon the findings of the first empirical study of ESOs, in order to highlight the problems that emerge when the complexities of commercial sexual exchange are reduced into a binary of ‘victims and victimizers’ to be saved or corrected by criminal justice sanctioned initiatives. In conclusion, we argue for a more productive use of the criminal law that complements rather than eclipses the wider social justice concerns in this arena.