European Network Against Trafficking in Human Beings

New publication

Moral Crusade Against Prostitution

Document number
Moral Crusade Against Prostitution
Ronald Weitzer, Society
View/save PDF version of this document
Document type(s)
Prostitution; Sex work; Unionisation of sex workers; Clients, Abolitionism; New Abolitionism; Prohibitionism; Regulationism, Women's rights; Women; Control and regulation of prostitution, Protection, Punishable forms of prostitution,
A robust, new moral crusade against prostitution and sex trafficking has arisen in the past few years, targeting these issues with a vengeance and making a host of outlandish claims. This crusade has scored a series of major victories in getting its ideology incorporated in law and government policy, resulting in a growing crackdown on the sex industry in both the United States and abroad. Moral crusades arise in reaction to a perceived social problem which they define as an unqualified evil; participants see their mission as a righteous enterprise whose goals are both symbolic (attempting to redraw or reinforce normative boundaries) and practical (aiming to crack down on evildoers and/or provide relief to victims). Crusaders typically call upon political elites to do something about the problem, and successful crusades result in some kind of institutionalization—in policy, law, or enforcement practices. Apart from winning legal and policy battles, successful crusades also benefit insofar as their ideology is given official endorsement by the state, which helps to affirm the crusaders’ moral standards, elevate their status, and often generates an influx of new resources. Moral crusades take the form of “moral panics” if the targeted evil is blown out of proportion, if the number of alleged victims is far higher than what is warranted by the available evidence, and if the claims result in exaggerated anxiety or alarm among at least a segment of the population. In a moral panic, the gravity and scale of a menace or threat far exceeds its objective reality. By this definition, the current crusade against prostitution can be considered a moral panic par excellence.
Related documents