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The fundamental problem of how to conceptualize prostitution—as sin, as crime, as enslavement, as productive work, as disease vector, as social risk profile—and of how to approach it in policy and practice became more acute in the 1980s and 1990s (Davis). The trends toward globalization in communications and the economy, in migrant labor flows, in international "sextourism," and in the spread of AIDS and other diseases have exposed the inadequacies of traditional, locally focused efforts to understand and to address prostitution (Truong, 1986, 1990). The conceptual incoherence of sociolegal theories is compounded by the radical complexity of global jurisdictional differences in legislation, in criminal justice policies, and in social consequences. Prostitutes from the most impoverished and disease-afflicted areas of the world walk the streets of the wealthiest countries as "sextourists" flow in the opposite direction. As media panics about disease epidemics and about the sexual exploitation and even enslavement of children as well as adults seize the short attention span of the global public, the dimensions of the problems are rapidly outpacing the authority and even the scope of vision of local and national governments.

International law instruments such as the 1949 UN Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (only ratified by about one-third of the UN member states as of 1998) are still no more than tentative and rudimentary efforts. Nongovernmental organizations are considerably more in touch with the rapidly changing global facts of prostitution at the beginning of the twenty-first century, but they too suffer from the lack of any shared conception of the problems and they routinely expend their limited resources working at cross-purposes to one another. In few other domains of crime and justice is there a more urgent need for more and more rigorous empirical research on a worldwide scale and for a fundamental theoretical reorientation.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawProstitution - Social Attribution And The Construction Of Prostitution As A Social Problem, Transaction-cost Approaches To Prostitution: From Repression To Regulation