‘Challenging Perspectives’

New book about prostitution features variety of voices

It’s not often that academic researchers attend the performance of a play and hear themes from their own scholarly work echoed in some of the actors’ words.

But Chrysanthi Leon, associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware, had that experience at a performance of Project Dawn at People’s Light professional theatre company in Malvern, Pennsylvania. Not only did she recognize some of the lines being spoken on stage, but research included in a book she co-edited was cited in the program for the play.

'Challenging Perspectives on Street-Based Sex Work' is published by Temple University Press. Image credit: University of Delaware

‘Challenging Perspectives on Street-Based Sex Work’ is published by Temple University Press. Image credit: University of Delaware

They did their research,” Leon said of the play’s writer and director. “They read our articles about sex work, and they reached out to us.”

The play, running through July 9, is set in Philadelphia’s real-life Project Dawn Court, which offers specialized services to women with a history of prostitution arrests. Cast members portray women on both sides of the law — defendants, lawyers, judges, parole officers and others involved in the court.

Leon, who has conducted research into prostitution, particularly in Delaware, for several years, is an editor of Challenging Perspectives on Street-Based Sex Work, a new book published by Temple University Press. Co-editors are Katie Hail-Jares of Australia’s Griffith Criminology Institute and Corey S. Shdaimah of the University of Maryland.

The chapters in Challenging Perspectives were selected to offer a variety of viewpoints, in particular those individuals involved in the everyday realities of sex work, from police officers to social workers to the women themselves, Leon said.

We think this is a unique collection of voices,” she said. “So often, academics only talk to each other. We wanted this book to be different.”

Scholars and advocates have praised the book for including so many perspectives and for focusing on the impact of different criminal justice policies that target prostitution. Human trafficking is often in the headlines in recent years, but Leon said a lot of what people think they know about the subject is wrong.

Are there people involved in prostitution who don’t want to be? Absolutely,” she said. “There’s a lot of trauma and a lot of victimization, but it’s too simple — and it’s not accurate — to call every sex worker a victim.”

One chapter in the book, examining how sex work is portrayed in a documentary film, describes research conducted at the University of Delaware. The chapter is written by Leon, Shdaimah and UD doctoral student in sociology Aneesa A. Baboolal.

Baboolal showed the documentary, Very Young Girls, to undergraduate students in two classes, one in women and gender studies and the other in legal studies, and then surveyed the students about their views.

Both groups had some knowledge of the subject matter, she said, “but I think many of them were surprised” at some details of the girls’ lives, including the degree to which they were physically or emotionally coerced into sex work and their lack of family support.

A goal of many researchers, Leon said, is to examine the variety of situations among those involved in sex work and to explore the need for a variety of approaches — not just law enforcement measures — to address the issue.

In their conclusion, the editors of Challenging Perspectives write that, “Expanding the conversation by embracing sex workers as partners, rather than as subjects to be researched or managed, will result in research that is richer [and] policies that are more responsive to the true service needs of communities.”

Article by Ann Manser

*Source: University of Delaware (Published on July 07, 2017)

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