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Law, Sex Work, and Desire in Johannesburg

 

Nonfiction / Law

Date Published: December 21, 2021

Publisher: Stanford University Press

 

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Sex work occupies a legally gray space in Johannesburg, South Africa, and police attitudes towards it are inconsistent and largely unregulated. As I. India Thusi argues in Policing Bodies, this results in both room for negotiation that can benefit sex workers and also extreme precarity in which the security police officers provide can be offered and taken away at a moment’s notice. Sex work straddles the line between formal and informal. Attitudes about beauty and subjective value are manifest in formal tasks, including police activities, which are often conducted in a seemingly ad hoc manner. However, high-level organizational directives intended to regulate police obligations and duties toward sex workers also influence police action and tilt the exercise of discretion to the formal. In this liminal space, this book considers how sex work is policed and how it should be policed. Challenging discourses about sexuality and gender that inform its regulation, Thusi exposes the limitations of dominant feminist arguments regarding the legal treatment of sex work. This in-depth, historically informed ethnography illustrates the tension between enforcing a country’s laws and protecting citizens’ human rights.



About the Author

I. India Thusi is Professor of Law at Indiana University Bloomington Maurer School of Law, with a joint appointment at the Kinsey Institute. She has worked with the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and The Opportunity Agenda.

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