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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: September 10, 2000
Latest update: December 7, 2001
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Constitutive Criminology At Work - Chapter 2

Review and Essay by Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata
Part of Peacemaking Identity Series
Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata, June 2000. "Fair Use" encouraged.

This essay is based on Lisa Sanchez' Chapter 2: Sex, Law and the Paradox of Agency and Resistance in the Everyday Practices of Women in the "Evergreen" Sex Trade, in Stuart Henry and Dragon Milovanovic's Constitutive Criminology at Work, State University of New York, 1999. ISBN: 0-7914-4194-6 (pbk.).

Lisa Sanchez analyzed the stories of prostitutes she studied. Each of them perceives herself as "having choices" because she chose prostitution over other lifestyles that were available to her. But Lisa Sanchez points out that the agency the prostitutes enjoyed was highly constrained by the structural context. Given the constraints, the prostitutes did have a choice between prostitution or other unpleasant alternatives, like sexual and/or physical abuse at home, homelessness, extreme poverty. Sanchez emphasizes the way in which the prostitutes themselves internalized their choices as "agency" and the choice to do what they chose of the available alternatives. But she reminds us that the constraints of dominant discourse and the structural context so limited their choices that prostitution became the most palatable of their choices.

This helps to explain the interdependence of agency and structural context. This also illustrates the ever-present tension between the individual and the community. The individual does have choices. But the social group in which the individual finds itself constrains many of those choices.

Cheryl Spear asked about this in connection with the rape of prostitutes. Rape is rape is rape. But when the trier of fact is aware that the victim is a prostitute, the constraints of dominant discourse and structural context come into play and affect the perspective in which the rape is seen. Yes, she was raped. But, she has chosen to sell her body and therefore is given less protection than the women who does not sell her body. Under the U.S. Constitution we are each entitled to the full protection of the law, so that it is a violation of our constitutional rights to accord some of us less protection than others because of our "chosen" profession. And here you begin to see the importance of "chosen." If in the first place, choices were highly constrained by the structural context, now they are further constrained by our refusal to take into consideration in rape that original lack of agency in choosing prostitution for survival.