WDW 380: Crime, Gender and Sex
Brock talks about prostitution as an occupation and how it has been regulated and constructed as a social problem.
Miller talks about the global market for sex trafficking and sex tourism,
The last reading has info on the international and Canadian laws on prostitution.
-Today we will have an overview of how criminologists and social scientists have talked about prostitution.
-The mid-term exam will be given in class next week. You’ll have two hours to write it (i.e. until about 8:20 pm).
-There will be 4 short essay questions; ‘short’ means your answers will be limited to three pages of an exam
booklet. Each will be worth 5 points
-There will also be 5 multiple-choice questions. Each will be worth 1 point
-A study guide will be posted on the course website by Wednesday (Oct. 19) afternoon.
Questions you should Be Able to Answer after Today’s Lecture
-How has prostitution been explained by social scientists, including criminologists, and feminist scholars?
-What assumptions about sex, sexuality, and gender lie behind these explanations? This is important
Social Science Perspectives on Prostitution
-Most research & theory has focused on women who sell sex to men
Comparatively little research has been done on males who buy sex or on males who sell sex
Why so little research on males who buy sex?
Because typically it’s been assumed that males have an innately strong sex drive that needs to be fulfilled
As such, it’s not necessary to explain the demand side of prostitution
-Why so little research on males who sell sex?
• Academic blindness to homosexuality and to women’s sexuality
-Economic need is acknowledged as one reason women engage in prostitution
• But economic need often has not been seen as a sufficient explanation
--There are a few things that most of these different perspectives have in common. One is that much of the research has
focused on women who sell sex to men, as opposed to men who buy sex. Thus, it focuses on one form of prostitution.
Thus, the assumption is that it is women’s behavior that needs to be explained. The research typically doesn’t ask why
men buy sex, but why women sell sex. The reason for the little research on men buying sex is because people assume
that men have an innately stronger sex drive than women that needs to be channeled. Thus, if we assume that, it doesn’t
need to be explained.
--This also means that academics have been blind or neglectful of other forms of sexuality other than heterosexuality.
Thus, we see a lack of research on males who sell sex or women who sell sex to women. Thus, heterosexuality
dominates and other forms seem not worth studying.
--There’s also been an assumption that women’s sexuality in itself isn’t worth studying. Thus, little attention is paid to
women who may be interested in buying sex. It assumes that women would be willing to have sex with any men, as
opposed to needing to buy it.
--Thus, prostitution has been looked as a crime that women commit, though men may be involved in buying, women
-One of the main reasons women engage in prostitution (it is though) is for economic gain and need. Therefore, people
aren’t surprised to find that women in the sex trade tend to be economically disadvantaged. At the same time, most
perspectives understand that economic need doesn’t explain it all. So most theories accomplish other things other than
just the economic need. This is what we will focus on (other than the economic need) in looking at these theories.
Lombroso on Prostitution and Prostitutes
Prostitution: “Women’s natural form of retrogression”
• Born prostitutes:
• have a “grossly exaggerated” sex drive and poor impulse control; are psychologically disordered, neurotic, and
mentally defective; and are often homosexual
• Nevertheless prostitution is beneficial for society
• it serves as a “moral safety valve”
--He was particularly interested in female prostitutes, because for him, the natural form of female atavism (evolutionary
throwbacks) is implicated in prostitution. For him, prostitution is easy to understand and explain, more so than criminals.
Prostitution is the common way that women engage in crime.
--In some sense, for him, female prostitutes are more natural than female criminals (this doesn’t mean more normal). He
believed that women who engage in the sex trade, have a variety of psychological and other problems. He is contradictory
in what he thinks about prostitutes. At some times, he says that what makes then normal is their higher sex drive, another
times, he says they get involved in the sex trade because they have no sex drive.
--Mainly, prostitutes are different from normal women. He argues many of them are homosexual, which is one of the
reasons they don’t care about being arrested, because it gives them opportunity to practice homosexuality in jail.
--At the same time, he didn’t feel that prostitution was harmful to society. He thought it should be a crime, but he thinks it
is beneficial because it serves a “moral safety valve”. He believed that men have an innately strong sex drive. In some
cases, it is so strong that it can’t be fulfilled through appropriate channels like marriage, partly because normal women
don’t have a strong sex drive. Thus, more demand than there is supply. Thus, prostitutes service this moral safety valve
so that it doesn’t come out in other ways.
--He was fascinated in physiognomy (the way they look, their physical being, etc), and he thought there were clear
abortions in their physical attributes, just as he saw in born criminals. He was convinced that what he found were
universal rules in terms of the physiognomy of prostitutes that he looked at prostitutes all over the world. In all cases,
regardless of ethnicity or what, they all share the same physiological markers. He wasn’t consistent though, he actually changed what he said these markers were, but he said that they do not have more masculine characteristics like
“Poverty alone cannot toss women in the arms of vice if heir sense of modesty isn’t already weak or that they are not
already predisposed by cravings for riches and pleasure”. Lombroso on Chinese prostitutes. He saw them as weak willed
and not able to control impulses for shiny things.
--Just like his work on criminals, his work on born prostitutes received criticisms for the methods used. At the same time,
he wasn’t criticized for his assumption that prostitutes are distinctly different from normal women. Many social scientists
and criminologists agree with this and operate with this same assumption.
--Until probably the 1960’s, almost all the work on prostitution was aimed at studying their minds. No one felt it was
necessary to look at the minds of the men who bought it, because it was just assumed that they needed it. Thus, we see a
belief in the innate differences between men and women and their sex drives. One of the lone voices speaking against
this assumption that prostitutes were abnormal was Kinsley Davis, who coined the term “population explosion”. He studies
a lot of demography, but he also has an interest in studying prostitution.
Kingsley Davis on Prostitution and Prostitutes
Prostitution: “A vice that injures no one”
• It’s functional for society, because it maintains the family & protects ‘pure’ women from sexually voracious
Again, it’s a ‘moral safety valve’
“Enabling a small number of women to take care of a large number of men, [prostitution] is the most convenient sexual
outlet for an army, and for the legions of strangers, perverts, and the physically repulsive in our midst. It performs a
function, apparently, which no other institution fully performs.” (K. Davis, 1961)
- Stigmatizing prostitution is also functional
It conveys the message that sex in marriage is the appropriate form of sexual expression
However, male clients should not be criminalized
“To throw good citizens* in jail for a vice that injures no one would cause more social disruption than correcting the
alleged crime would be worth” (K. Davis, 1961)
• The “good citizens” Davis was referring to are male clients
--He was unusual because he didn’t rely on the assumption that prostitutes were different from normal women. He argued
that prostitution (similarity to Lombroso) has its basis in the distinct differences between men and women in their sex
drives. Men have a stronger sex drive and need a way to fulfill it.
--He also believed that sex drive in men had to be channeled in some way. It could be repressed, but only so far. For
single men, this can be dangerous. He argued that this strong male sex drive could endanger the nuclear family. If men
engage in sex all over the place, it will endanger the nuclear family. Thus, society needs to come up with another way of
dealing with this sex drive. That conclusion (coming up with another way to deal with the sex drive) assumes that the only
appropriate sexual expression is within a normal heterosexual relationship. Thus, heterosexual sex, to him, is the only
normal sex. If you assume this, you see society has a problem. What do we do with this sex drive?
--Similar to Lombroso, he thought prostitution provided this outlet. In fact, it is functional. He wanted to emphasize the
positive benefits to society of prostitution. Not just that men can channel their sex rive elsewhere, nut that normal women
don’t have to engage in the kinds of sex that they find degrading. Prostitution can also provide an outlet for single men.
Therefore, we can see a very essentialist view of the sex drive. Men are so controlled by their sex drive, that if they don’t
control it, they will go around and rape women. Thus, prostitutions are protecting women and this is functional for society.
--Why do some women engage in it? This is where he disagrees from Lombroso. He didn’t think these women were
abnormal. He suggested 2 reasons:
1. Acknowledging gender inequality in society, he says it is a very well paying job. Thus, for many women, it is a
2. Some women enjoy being prostitutes. Not because they love sex, but because women are socialized to be
nurturing, and thought that being female is about being sensitive to other’s needs and providing services to
other people. Thus, prostitution allows them to perform femininity and it is consistent with the female role.
--His work is advancement, but he was a hypocrite in that by stressing that they aren’t abnormal or bad people, he still
thought it was important to stigmatize and criminalize prostitution. The reason is because by making it a crime, you are
serving a symbolic function. It sends the message that the only appropriate form of sexual expression is within the family.
However, he believed criminalizing prostitution means criminalizing the women who sold sex and not the men who bought
--By the early 70’s, research on prostitution had taken off. Social scientists began to do research and argued that (like
Davis) prostitutes are not abnormal women. Prostitution isn’t the sign of a sick society, it is a feature of normal societies
and it is largely an occupational choice, and that prostitutes aren’t typically psychologically disordered.
Social Science Perspectives on Prostitution (since the early 1970’s)
a normal feature of society
an occupational choice
not due to mental disorder or other pathologies
Decriminalization or legalization of prostitution would eliminate many of the problems associated with it
Legalization and de-criminalization are two separate regulatory f