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Why we can’t persuade the press to talk properly about prostitution

January 22nd, 2006

Dr Petra

Last week the Home Office released new proposals about tackling prostitution. Predictably, colleagues and myself were asked to comment on the report and prostitution in general in the media.

In my interviews I detailed the positive outcomes that could come from the report (particularly tackling child abuse and trafficking), and its limitations. I stressed how difficult it was to discuss this issue without it being glamorised, sexualised and oversimplified – particularly by the media and policymakers.

I’ve then gone on to watch reporters ignore this and write pieces that misunderstood prostitution, the Home Office report, and evidence given to them by experts.

Other colleagues reported similarly dismal experiences.

To illustrate, here’s encounter I had during the week on a regional radio station’s breakfast show. I’d was invited on to explain the Home Office proposal. The show was hosted by a male and female presenter team (identified here as M.P. and F.P.)

M.P. “Later this morning we’ll be going live to _______________ where we’ll be hearing how the scourge of prostitution has affected the town. But first, to tell us all about prostitution here’s Dr Petra Boynton who’s a (pause) sex researcher!!

F.P. (laughing) “What a great job title! I bet you get yourself into loads of interesting situations”

P.B. Well, it’s not as glamorous as…

M.P. (interrupting) I bet you get loads of embarrassing things happening to you. I bet you’re really popular (laughs).

P.B. It is an interesting job, and…

F.P. (interrupting and sounding very serious and prim) What IS a sex researcher? What do you actually do? Is there such a thing as your job?

P.B. You can think of sex researchers as modern-day Kinsey’s if you like, although not perhaps as famous (laughs). We study attitudes, behaviours, and experiences. Everything from sexual problems, to pleasure. And issues like sex work, violence or child abuse”

M.P. Phwoar! I’d love to see YOUR business card. (laughing)… so Petra, why DO men go to prostitutes?

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