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Prostitution policy, morality and the precautionary principle

Phil Hubbard (SSPSSR, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK.)
Teela Sanders (Department of Sociology, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK.)
Jane Scoular (Law School, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK.)

Drugs and Alcohol Today

ISSN: 1745-9265

Article publication date: 5 September 2016



The purpose of this paper is to explore the contemporary regulation of sex work in England and Wales, placing this in the context of debates concerning morality, evidence and the efficacy of policy.


This brief paper is based on reflections on the authors’ research and their contribution to policy debates over the last two decades.


This paper presents prostitution policy as morality policy and suggests that it remains overwhelmingly based on the idea that prostitution is immoral and hence must be inherently harmful.

Practical implications

The paper makes a strong case for evidence-based policy in an area where morality tends to promote a partial and selective reading of evidence. Here, parallels are drawn with policies regulating other pleasurable but “sinful” activities, including the consumption of drugs and alcohol.

Social implications

It is argued that the dominance of a particular policy approach to sex work perpetuates stigma for those in the sex industries and exacerbates risks of harm.


By highlighting the moral dimensions of prostitution policy, the paper shows that the drift towards the criminalisation of sex work in England and Wales is not informed by academic evidence.



Hubbard, P., Sanders, T. and Scoular, J. (2016), "Prostitution policy, morality and the precautionary principle", Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. 16 No. 3, pp. 194-202.



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