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Sex Work and Trafficking: Moving beyond Dichotomies


  • Francesca Bettio
  • Marina Della Giusta
  • Maria Laura Di Tommaso


This contribution examines how feminist economists have conceptualized sex work and trafficking through the lens of agency and stigma. The ongoing debate about legalization has focused on sex workers’ agency and choice, and on the role of stigma in shaping the supply of and demand for sex work. Building on the analysis advanced by contributions to this special issue, this study contends that theoretical and policy debates about sex work are dominated by false dichotomies of agency and stigma. It argues that the relationship between stigma and agency operates along a continuum of contractual arrangements that underpins a high degree of segmentation in the industry. The higher the stigma, the lower tends to be the agency. Current policies toward sex work therefore need reconsideration – especially mounting support for criminalization of clients, which, by increasing stigma, is likely to detract from the agency and the well-being of sex workers, however unintentionally.

Suggested Citation

  • Francesca Bettio & Marina Della Giusta & Maria Laura Di Tommaso, 2017. "Sex Work and Trafficking: Moving beyond Dichotomies," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 23(3), pages 1-22, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:femeco:v:23:y:2017:i:3:p:1-22
    DOI: 10.1080/13545701.2017.1330547

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    Cited by:

    1. Astrid Agenjo‐Calderón & Lina Gálvez‐Muñoz, 2019. "Feminist Economics: Theoretical and Political Dimensions," American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 78(1), pages 137-166, January.
    2. Della Giusta, Marina & Di Tommaso, Maria Laura & Jewell, Sarah & Bettio, Francesca, 2019. "Quashing Demand Criminalizing Clients? Evidence from the UK," IZA Discussion Papers 12405, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    3. Sonnabend, Hendrik & Stadtmann, Georg, 2018. "Good intentions and unintended evil? Adverse effects of criminalizing clients in paid sex markets with voluntary and involuntary prostitution," Discussion Papers 400, European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder), Department of Business Administration and Economics.

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