Victims and Lost Causes: Official Responses to Youth Prostitution in England and Wales

Joanna Phoenix, University of Bath

ABSTRACT
In March 2000, the British government issued guidance to all criminal justice and welfare agencies directing them to treat young people involved in prostitution as victims of the exploitative and abusive behavior of adults. Until this point, British criminal law and public policy did not distinguish between those under the age of 18 who were involved in prostitution and adult prostitutes. This created the situation in which children under the age of sexual consent could be (and were) prosecuted for prostitution-related offences. Instead, young prostitutes are now officially defined as being, in the first instance, appropriate subjects for social welfare interventions, rather than criminalisation. Statutory welfare agencies and the police are enjoined to safeguard these young people from abuse and exploitation instead of punish them. Drawing on in-depth interview materials collected from Local Authority, voluntary agencies and policed officials tasked with implementing the March 2000 guidance, this paper asks the question of how and in what ways these organisations work with young people in prostitution and to what effect. Using qualitative data analysis, this paper seeks to understand the ways in which those claiming to help young prostitutes construct them and the impact such constructions have on official practice.

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Updated 05/20/2006