Aren’t Sex Workers Women? Ladies, Sex Workers and the Contrasting Definitions of Safety and Violence

  • Marylene Lieber Institute for Gender Studies, University of Geneva
  • Hélène Le Bail French Collaborative Institute on Migration, CERI-Sciences Po Paris
Keywords: Gender, violence, safety, sex work, public space


This article focuses on the case of Paris, where programs favoring gender equality in public space have emerged in the context of strong debates over a new prostitution law (passed in 2016) that penalizes clients. Since “women’s” and sex workers' use of public space are treated as radically disconnected questions, this article will explore how this distinction has come into existence by analyzing the differentially regulated presence of women on the streets. We will thus look at various narratives that normalize the appropriate presence of women in public space and analyze the ways in which gendered programs that are supposed to target all women actually create and legitimize differences among women along lines of types of occupation, morality, sexuality, gender, class, and race. In particular, we will explore regimes of perception of safety and security, connected to both sexual harassment and street prostitution, and show how these highlight the moral dimension of the gendered urban organization of space.


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How to Cite
Lieber, M., & Le Bail, H. (2021). Aren’t Sex Workers Women? Ladies, Sex Workers and the Contrasting Definitions of Safety and Violence. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 20(3), 241-256. Retrieved from