Petra Östergren – Different moral frameworks - different policy outcomes: Rethinking sex work policies

Event type: 
Event date: 
Tuesday, 21 March 2017 - 1:00pm to 2:00pm

Berg Family Foundation Seminar Room, Level 6, Wallace Wurth Building, UNSW Australia, Sydney

Contact for inquiries: 
Rata Joseph, +61 (2) 9385 0900 or
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Petra Östergren

Ph.D. Candidate, Social Anthropology, Lund University


About your speaker

Petra Östergren is a Swedish Ph.D. candidate in Social Anthropology at Lund University, researching  Swedish sex work policy, and particular its ban on the purchase of sexual services. She is also the author of a book that analyses paradoxes in Swedish approaches to commercial sex (transl. Porn, Whores and Feminists, 2006), and is currently project leader for the Swedish part of a multidisciplinary EU research project Addressing demand in anti-trafficking efforts and policies (DemandAT).



Scholars researching the sex work sector have long struggled to compare and evaluate prostitution policies. In this effort we have deployed general categories such as 'criminalisation', 'regulation', 'licensing' and ‘decriminalisation’. However, there remain profound disagreements on what these categories entail and how they are used. When researchers do not share an understanding of which policy models exist, or even what constitutes a particular model, any comparison of specific policies becomes fruitless. A new, more unambiguous typology is needed.

Based on an ethnographic and inductive methodological approach, the paper presents a tripartite typology of general sex work policy models. The point of departure is to assess if the policy aims to eradicate, limit or integrate the sex work sector into the overall societal and legal structure. Therefore, I name the polices repressive, restrictive and integrative.

By establishing such a typology, we obtain a clearer understanding of what sex work policy incorporates, as well as more reliable analyses of their potential and actual effects. For instance, the Swedish policy and it's much touted sex purchase ban, introduced in 1999, can be understood as repressive, whereas New Zealand seeks to integrate the sector into society and give sex workers rights. This also provides us with a basis into interrogating the kinds of moral logic that guides different national outcomes. For instance, why does Sweden have a “zero tolerance” to both drugs and sex work, while New Zealand seems to have a more pragmatic approach to these policy areas? Can we decipher an underlying moral model?