Report on demand found to be unethical, ‘irresponsible’ and ‘disrespectful’

‘Challenging Men’s Demand for Prostitution’ a report on male clients of female sex workers released this month, has been criticised in an open statement by a group of prominent academics from the UK, the US and Canada.

The report, published by the Women’s Support Project and funded by Greater Glasgow & Clyde NHS Health Board, Scottish Government Equality Unit, Community Regeneration Fund (via Routes Out of Prostitution Partnership), and Glasgow City Council, has been lambasted for amongst other criticisms, failing to fulfill ethical criteria. The commentary released by the group argues that that the report divorces sex work from the economic, cultural and social nexus in which the exchange of sex for money takes place and reduces it to an over-simplified issue of violence. At the extreme, this results in a call to categorise men who buy sex alongside ‘rapists, paedophiles and other social undesirables’ (Challenging Men’s Demand in Scotland 2008: 27).

‘Gladiatorial conditions’

The central criticism of the commentary is founded on a lack of evidence of ethical process in undertaking the research. The group claims that the research design violates ‘fundamental principles of human research’ to which all research should be subject. They also point to an absence of submission to an ethics committee, a process which is increasingly mandatory for research projects in all academic institutions and the NHS.

The statement accuses the report of evading ethical procedures including gaining informed consent, providing control groups, engaging in peer review and the inclusion of research tools in appendices. It is claimed that the apparent lack of ‘informed consent’ – the principle that all participants should be fully aware of the purposes of the research – could result in significant psychological damage and social stigmatisation. Further still, it states that the failure to include a risk assessment in the research design also shows disregard for the researchers on the project, who claimed to have been traumatised through their experiences during the investigation.

Peer Review/Under Review

At at time in which the government is reviewing the demand for sex work, contributions to the debate are timely, but they must also be constructive. There is already a wealth of research on the clients of sex workers, published in peer reviewed journals, which meets academic criteria and which has undergone processes of ethical approval. The commentary demonstrates that the majority of this research was excluded by the authors of ‘Challenging Demand’. It is this rich body of literature which should be referred to in the government’s review of demand, rather than commissioning expensive and unhelpful research which falls short of basic parameters to ensure the protection of participants and researchers.

For more research on sex work and clients:

Brooks-Gordon, B. (2005) ‘Clients and Commercial Sex: Reflections on Paying the Price: A Consultation Paper on Prostitution’, Criminal Law Review: 425-443.
— (2006) The Price of Sex: Prostitution, Policy and Society: Willan Publishing.

Campbell, R. (1998) ‘Invisible Men: Making Visible Male Clients of Female Prostitutes in Merseyside’, in J. Elias, V. Bullough, V. Elias and G. Brewer (eds) Prostitution. On Whores, Hustlers and Johns, New York: Prometheus Books. pp. 155-171

Campbell, R. and Storr, M. (2001) ‘Challenging the Kerb Crawler Rehabilitation Programme’, Feminist Review 67(Spring): 94-108.

Grentz, S. (2005) ‘Intersections of Sex and Power in Research on Prostitution: A Female Researcher Interviewing Male Heterosexual Clients’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 30(4): 2091-2113.Kinnell, H (2006) ‘Clients of Female Sex Workers: Men or Monsters?’ in R. Campbell and M. O’Neill (eds) Sex Work Now, Cullumpton:Willan. pp. 212-262

Lowman, J., and Atchison, C., (2006) ‘Men Who Buy Sex: A Survey in the Greater Vancouver Regional District’, Canadian Journal of Sociology and Anthropology 43(3): 281-296.

Monto, M. A. and Hotaling, N. (2001) ‘Predictors of Rape Myth Acceptance Among Male Clients of Female Street Prostitutes’, Violence Against Women 7(3): 275-293.

O’Connell Davidson, J. (2003) ”Sleeping with the Enemy’? Some Problems with Feminist Abolitionist Calls to Penalise Those Who Buy Commercial Sex’, Social Policy and Society 2(1): 55-64.

Peng, Y. W. (2007) ‘Buying Sex. Domination and Difference in the Discourses of Taiwanese Piao-ke’, Men and Masculinities 9(3): 315-336.

Phoenix, J. and Oerton, S. (2005) Illicit & Illegal. Sex, Regulation and Social Control, Cullompton: Willan.

Perkins, R. (1999) ‘How much are you love?’ The customer in the Australian sex industry. Social Alternatives 18(3) 38-47

Sanders, T (2008) Paying for Pleasure: Men who Buy Sex, Willan, Cullompton

Scoular, J. (2004) ‘Criminalising ‘Punters’: Evaluating the Swedish Position on Prostitution’, Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 26(2): 195-210.

Van Brunschot, E. G. (2003) ‘Community Policing and “John Schools”‘, Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 40(2): 215-232.


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