On Beauty & Policing
68 Pages Posted: 9 Sep 2020
Date Written: July 29, 2020
“To protect and serve” is the motto of police departments from Los Angeles to Cape Town. When police officers deviate from the twin goals of protection and service, for example by using excessive force or by maintaining hostile relations with the community, scholars recommend more training, more oversight, or more resources in policing. However, police appear to be motivated by a superseding goal in the area of sex work policing. In some places, the policing of sex workers is connected to police officers’ perceptions of beauty, producing a hierarchy of desirable bodies as enforced by those sworn to protect and serve us all.
This Article examines how police preserve racial and gender subordination in South Africa, an instructive analog for the United States because of both nations’ shared histories of racial apartheid and valorization of whiteness. Drawing from extensive original data from a multiyear study, this Article exposes how police officers’ perceptions about sex workers’ beauty influenced their policing of different classes of sex workers in Johannesburg, South Africa. Police valuations about sex workers’ beauty resulted in benevolent surveillance of sex workers who were higher on the social hierarchy and decreased police protection for sex workers whom they viewed as less beautiful in more dangerous areas of the community. If community protection and service were the primary motivators for police conduct, police officers should have focused on the spaces that were more dangerous, which were those with sex workers police deemed less professionalized and less beautiful.
Keywords: Criminal Law, Criminalization, Policing, Sex Work, South Africa
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