Policy for People with the Fewest Choices: Ontology and Actorhood for Sex Trade Abolition

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Prostitution is historically one of the most violent arenas for women, with exceedingly high rates of physical and sexual abuse reported by prostituted women. In this essay, I examine the debate over how best to provide safety and freedom for women involved in prostitution occurring between advocates for full decriminalization and advocates for the equality model, an abolition initiative led by survivors working for an end to the sex trade. Insights from cultural sociological analyses of actorhood and visibility are applied to reveal the divergent ontologies underlying these two policy pathways. While full decriminalization reforms aim to legalize and regulate prostitution within a capitalist, misogynistic marketplace, advocates for the equality model are committed to transforming social systems so that prostituted people have the opportunity to live their lives outside of the sex trade. Their systems-changing policy, guided by sophisticated theorization of how best to support women's freedoms, is an exemplary model for ending violence against women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1442-1455
Number of pages14
JournalSociological Forum
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • actorhood
  • equality
  • law and policy
  • ontology
  • prostitution
  • sex trade
  • violence against women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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