Understanding the Law’s Relationship with Sex Work: Introduction to ‘Sex Work and The Law: Does the Law Matter?’


  • Laura Graham Northumbria University
  • Victoria Holt
  • Mary Laing




This special issue of The International Journal of Gender, Sexuality and Law, edited by Laura Graham, Victoria Holt and Mary Laing, brings together a range of voices and knowledges on the issue of Sex Work and the Law: Does the Law Matter? Mirroring global and national sex worker campaigns, official consultations, policy and wider debates over the last two decades, there has been much academic interest in the legal responses to sex work (Scoular and O’Neill, 2007; Graham, 2017; Munro and Della Giusta, 2008). Much of this work has evaluated the varied current legal responses to sex work, how they impact sex workers’ lives, and how the law might be reformed. There is also significant academic and governmental interest in comparative research looking at legal responses across jurisdictions (Armstrong and Abel, 2020; Levy, 2014). This special issue takes a broad, critical approach to the relationship between sex work and the law, inspired by Jane Scoular’s (2010) question: does the law matter in sex work? In doing so, this special issue offers an interdisciplinary exploration of the complex relationship between law and sex work. This issue addresses global trends towards criminalisation of sex work, often predicated upon stopping trafficking, and considers the impact of these trends on sex workers, their rights, their working practices, and their marginalisation. It further examines the law’s response to new and emerging issues, such as COVID-19 and digital sex work, reflecting particularly on the varied impacts of over- and under- regulating sex work spaces. This special issue finally reflects on sex workers’ resistance – to current laws, to the expansion of laws, and to their lack of inclusion in debates around law. Throughout this issue, the voices of sex workers are integrated and prioritised, reflecting a commitment to inclusion of expert knowledges around the world.

Author Biography

Laura Graham, Northumbria University

Senior Lecturer in Law, Northumbria Law School