Women of the Street

How the Criminal Justice-Social Services Alliance Fails Women in Prostitution

288 pages

17 figures

February, 2017

ISBN: 9781479841943



Add to Cart Available: 2/3/2017

Also available in


Susan Dewey is Associate Professor of Gender and Social Justice at University of Wyoming and author of Women of the Street: How the Criminal Justice-Social Services Alliance Fails Women in Prostitution (NYUP 2017)

All books by Susan Dewey

Tonia St. Germain, JD, is retired Director of Women’s and Gender Studies, Eastern Oregon University. She is the co-editor, with Susan Dewey, of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence: International Law, Local Responses. 

All books by Tonia St. Germain

Explores encounters between those who make their living by engaging in street-based prostitution and the criminal justice and social service workers who try to curtail it  
Working together every day, the lives of sex workers, police officers, public defenders, and social service providers are profoundly intertwined, yet their relationships are often adversarial and rooted in fundamentally false assumptions.  The criminal justice-social services alliance operates on the general belief that the women they police and otherwise regulate choose sex work as a result of traumatization, rather than acknowledging the fact that socioeconomic realities often inform their choices.

Drawing on extraordinarily rich ethnographic research, including interviews with over one hundred street-involved women and dozens of criminal justice and social service professionals, Women of the Street argues that despite the intimate knowledge these groups have about each other, measures designed to help these women consistently fail because they do not take into account false assumptions about street life, homelessness, drug use and sex trading.  Reaching beyond disciplinary silos by combining the analysis of an anthropologist and a legal scholar, the book offers an evidence-based argument for the decriminalization of prostitution.


  • "This significant ethnographic study of women in the sex trade and those they interact with who seek to restrain their business or help them live more healthful lives is a compelling account that takes readers into a little-understood area of society."


  • “This is perhaps the most insightful ethnographic book on women in the street-based sex trade published in some time.”

    Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Book Reviews

  • “The book’s methodology is its greatest strength. The literature on street-level prostitution is too often dominated by quantitative research and studies that pathologize sex workers. Women of the Street is an extraordinary ethnography filled with rich data that offer readers a holistic and deeply human portrait of the lives of women in the sex trade.”

    American Journal of Sociology

  • "Susan Dewey and Tonia St. Germain have written a book that draws readers into the real struggles and dilemmas faced not only by poor and criminalized women but by the social service and police personnel who interact with these women on a daily basis. Their compelling writing draws the reader into the 'systemic intimacy' that the authors describe. Vividly portraying women who cycle in and out of the streets, jails and therapeutic facilities as well as the front-line workers designated to treat or arrest them, Women of the Street fills out our understanding of the intersecting racial, class and gendered forces that set up both the women and the front-line workers to remain stuck in cycles of misery and blame."

    —Susan Sered, author of Can't Catch a Break: Gender, Jail, Drugs, and the Limits of Personal Responsibility

  • "The most comprehensive and in-depth study of street prostitution on the market. Based on years of fieldwork with women involved in illicit commerce as well as interviews with the authorities and service providers who interact with them, the authors provide a fascinating ethnographic window into this world. The findings challenge monolithic stereotypes about street prostitution and reveal how the women assert their agency even under extremely dire conditions. The book also shows how the practices of social workers and criminal justice authorities are often counterproductive in subjecting the women to heightened risks, and suggests that decriminalization might be preferable to existing policies."

    —Ronald Weitzer, George Washington University