CrimScapes: Brief Overview of Research Key Findings

by CrimScapes Research Team


  1. Based on the observation that politics of criminalization have grown in importance globally, CrimScapes investigates ethnographically the specific manifestations across a variety of fields such as hate speech, women’s imprisonment, abortion, drug use, the spread of HIV/AIDS, search and rescue activities and sex work while looking at a specific European region for each. 
  2. In general, politics of criminalisation can be employed in two distinct ways: On the one hand it aims at supporting citizen rights and protecting vulnerable groups – e.g. when intensifying anti-hate speech laws to protect victims of hate -, on the other hand, it targets people, who are conceived as thread to public security and/or moral orders – e.g. when drug use, abortion or sex work is restricted or fully banned. 
  3. Understood broadly as the application of and increasing reliance on criminal law, crime control measures and imaginaries of (il)legality, politics of criminalisation come at the expense of – or entangled with – other forms of democratic governance, such as social justice, welfare and humanitarianism. 
  4. Politics of criminalization usually don’t go unquestioned. They play out and become enacted and negotiated locally in specific “landscapes of criminalisation.” In view of developments across European regions, it becomes obvious that these ever-changing “crimscapes” are often characterized by a legal ambiguity, creating “hostile environments” for those who have to navigate them as addressees of these politics. 
  5. Politics of criminalisation have effects on and contribute to a wide range of social phenomena, such as the creation of individual and group subjectivities, the ways in which social movements organise today, as shaping state-citizen relations and informing transnational regimes of participation, mobility, emotions and notions of “in/justice”. 
  6. Hence, politics of criminalisation present dilemmas to democratic governance. For example, criminalisation and juridification may hinder processes of collectivisation and solidarization. As criminalization “expands”, it might also involve the proliferation of non-state, and thus not-elected, actors. It unfolds threatening effects on everyday lifeworlds through subtle and manifold mechanisms beyond criminalisation, and is key to understanding the social order in Europe today. 

CrimScapes Key Findings 

The CrimScapes research project has undertaken a comprehensive examination of the proliferating influences of criminal law, crime control measures, and the imaginations surrounding (il)legality. The ethnographic research works to analytically grasp the motivations behind, and challenges and implications of, criminalisation for a variety of actors and practices that (re-)shape entangled landscapes of criminalisation, “crimscapes.”
While encompassing a diverse array of themes, including abortion, sex work, incarcerated women, hate speech, sea rescue, infectious diseases, and drug use, the research contributes to the international debates on a punitive turn in the penitentiary system.
It shows that this global trend does not go unchallenged and is articulated very differently locally – an endeavor that’s captured by the original concept of “CrimScapes – (shifting) Landscapes of Criminalization”.
Our original material has allowed for two things: 1. The research has, in part, explored “new terrains”. Therefore, its social impact has consisted in bringing a hitherto scientific and social blind spot into the public eye to some extent. 2. The cross-case analysis has revealed the pervasive impacts of criminalization on citizenship and democratic governance, prompting a critical reflection on citizenship that goes beyond narrow legal interpretations. In sum, the research shows the impact on the creation of individual and group subjectivities, and the ways in which social movements organise today, as shaping state-citizen relations and informing transnational regimes of mobility, emotions and notions of “in/justice.” This expanded understanding considers responsibilities, subjectivities, and the dynamics regulating access to rights.

More precisely, the project’s key findings, including examples from our research fields, are: 

  1. Politics of criminalisation are a growing and driving, yet mostly overlooked, policy trend across the world and in Europe. These politics encompass the growing mobilisation of criminal law, crime control measures and imaginaries of (il)legality as both responses to, and producers of, the politics of threat and uncertainty that are currently expanding across the European region.
  2. This “punitive trend”, a policy trend which has widely been described with regards to the anglo-saxon world, plays out and becomes enacted and contested locally across “landscapes of criminalisation” in Europe. It thus can be best understood through multi-sited ethnography in different fields of criminalisation across the region, focusing not solely on top-down processes, but particularly on the lived realities and how people “navigate” these environments.
  3. These crimscapes are often characterized by a legal ambiguity, creating “hostile environments”. We have been discussing the original concepts of  “institutional abandonment”(A. Dziuban) and “criminalisation machine” (J. Struzik) to grasp the mechanisms, contradictions and continuities, as well as unpredicted consequences of criminalisation.
    One of the most compelling and horrifying examples certainly is the effect of the legal ambiguity of the de-facto abortion ban in Poland, leading medical staff to refrain from providing assistance in cases of life-threatening miscarriages – accounting for the tragic death of several pregnant people within the past months.
  4. Politics of criminalisation can generally be employed in two distinct ways: On the one hand it can describe the mobilization of citizen rights – e.g. when intensifying anti-hate speech laws to protect victims of hate – , on the other hand, it can point to a challenge of participatory and transparent democratic processes – e.g. when public funds are given to police over community development.
  5. Politics of criminalisation don’t always go unquestioned. At times, they are contested and even disrupted by a turn to rehabilitative and non-punitive measures.
    In Germany, for example, the current government claims to turn away from prior penal policy and works to legalize a number of offenses and crimes. However, these developments don’t (yet) seem to establish substantial counter-practices of the general punitive turn. As shows the analysis of criminal law reform in Germany in 2023, trends towards legalising certain offences don’t necessarily call into question punitive logics at their core. 
  1. Politics of criminalisation can be understood as contributing to a wide range of current social phenomena, such as the creation of individual and group subjectivities, and the ways in which social movements organise today, as shaping state-citizen relations and informing transnational regimes of mobility, emotions and notions of “in/justice”. More precisely, we have identified the following core themes:
    • Criminalisation, (Historical) Figurations and Social Justice
      Notions of justice are inherent to politics of criminalisation. These notions are shifting and contested, and notions of social and criminal justice are far from being conjunt. Crucial for these contestations of in/justice and the shifting politics of criminalisation are emergent social figures of crime and criminalisation, vulnerability and protection.
      For example, figures such as “the criminal hero”, “the hater”, “the irregular migrant”, “the female offender as victim” and many more are important in the un/making of notions of justice and within the both, persistent and shifting governing logics of criminalisation.
    • Criminalisation, Citizenship and the Politics of In/Visibility
      The politics of visibility play a central role in various fields of criminalization, where the perception of being seen or unseen impacts regulation, representation and vulnerability. Through our analysis, visibility emerges as a regime of governance that varyingly shapes the ways in which people understand themselves, each other, and the common good.
      For example, imprisoned women shift between making themselves seen and unseen by the state/prison. Whereas the condition of the modern women’s prison can be conceptualised through the notion of carceral care,  prisoners’ citizenship is enacted within a permanent movement between longing for the state´s care and welfare, and hiding from its control.
    • Criminalisation and the Politics of Emotions
      Our research points to the ways in which emotions, criminalization, and citizenship intersect, especially as social movements form and respond to the challenging socio-political environments of criminalisation.
      For example, emotional dimensions underpin the medical-legal construction of HIV/AIDS in the courtroom. In harm reduction centers, we can witness how emotions such as refusal and shutting down help navigate criminalized fields. Finally, numerous social movements such as the pro-abortion movement transform their crimscapes by redefining hope and turning disappointments into productive catalysts for a more radical, embodied activism.
    • Criminalisation and Care: Criminalisation OF and AS Care and Radical Wellbeing as Mode of Navigation
      The research came to understand that contemporary landscapes of criminalization are characterized by the close entanglement of regimes of control and regimes of care. The notion of carceral care proved to be able to capture the simultaneousness of these seemingly oppositional regimes.
      For example, research from the fields of drug use, sex work and women’s prisons show, that In order to navigate their everyday life, affected communities try to anticipate, and subsequently live up to regimes of carceral care. But while they try to live up to the therapeutic and rehabilitative caring regime their affords are often thwarted by custodial measures of security and control.
    • Criminalisation, production of crises and chronicity
      Our research has documented how the lives of persons impacted by criminalisation are marked by what we have come to call, building on others, conditions of chronic crises. Criminalization not only restricts individual freedoms, but it can also deepen social inequalities, limiting access to citizenship rights and opportunities for affected groups. The relationship between criminalization and citizenship becomes particularly pronounced when state institutions target specific communities, often leading to a primary perception of the state as threat to well-being or survival rather than source of care and protection.
      For sex workers or people who use drugs in Poland, for example, citizenship rights are compromised due to police targeting, social and self-stigmatisation, and seemingly insurmountable legal and medical constraints.
  1. As inclined above, politics of criminalization hence present dilemmas to democratic governance. These dilemmas entail, but are not limited to:
    • Either in the name of protection and empowerment or of containment and punishment, criminalisation needs to be understood in relation to the general tendency toward juridification of social problems. 
    • The individualizing effects that result from the negotiation of social problems and the pursuit of social justice within a legal framework. Criminalisation and juridification hinder processes of collectivisation and solidarization.
    • Nevertheless, for some criminalized populations, criminalisation has provoked, perhaps paradoxically, the construction of political identities, communities and modes of participation, that are crucial to understanding the social order in Europe today. 
    • A foundation of democracy is that people (demos) have influence on political processes, often through the election of decision-making officials. However, our research indicates that criminalization “expands”, and it might also involve the proliferation of non-state, and thus not-elected, actors, such as non-governmental not-for-profit or for-profit organizations and corporations. 

Final CrimScapes Meeting – and a common future as convenors of the AnthroCrime Network!

At the beginning of February 2024, the members of the CrimScapes team gathered in Berlin for a final meeting within the NORFACE funding period, working together on tasks and ideas for the future and reviewed the last few weeks.

The past few weeks have been a real finishing sprint – with various public and semi-public online and offline events that have both updated and discussed our current findings on the topic of criminalization and brought these results to the public.

At this final meeting, we worked together on a special issue on citizenship and criminalization, on various articles and on a policy brief on the politics of criminalization, which we plan to present at the provisional end of the project.

We regret that the funding period has already come to an end and look back on 3.5 exciting, turbulent years, which we are currently digesting in the form of many articles!

For now, however, we will continue to work as a team – as the new conveners of the AnthroCrime Network. We are much looking forward to this new, joint task!

On Antimicrobial Resistance, Vulnerability, and Carcerality of Care

by Tiia Sudenkaarne

A bioethicist and a queer feminist philosopher for the past years working with social study of microbes, I was delighted to accept the offer to join CrimScapes for eight months 2023-2024. I was impressed by its exploration of the growing mobilisation of criminal law, crime control measures and imaginaries of (il)legality as both responses to, and producers of, the politics of threat and uncertainty that are currently expanding across the European region.

Bioethics can be defined as considerations of the moral, societal, and political issues brought about by sickness, health, care, and environment: what kind of ontological assumptions these concepts build on, what kind of knowledges they entail and how should ethical issues around them be resolved. Learning from the work of my CrimScapes colleagues, I have been particularly struck by their sobering analyses of how the concept of care is weaponized in various settings to deliver the very opposite of its intuitive meaning to those seemingly cared for. This excellent work has led me to think more about carceral care: in women’s prisons, in controlling and criminalizing discourses targeting HIV/AIDS, with seemingly benevolent yet authoritarian management of people who use illegal substances. Carceral care thus denotes the messy and entangled conglomerate of discretionary practices, performative measures, and material actions used to forestall the possibility of future interference and or interrogation of the underlying institutional violences of carceral spaces (Hwang 2019, 559). Carceral violence via carceral spaces can range from death-wielding enforcement to death-making negligence by institutions and their actors—parole boards, wardens, correctional officers, prison officials, medical staff, and administration (ibid). In this blog entry, I reflect on my own previous and ongoing work in relation to carcerality of care. 

The ethical relevance of vulnerability

Most recently, I have been developing a queer feminist posthumanist framework for ethics thinking about antimicrobial resistance (AMR). The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared AMR as “one of the top ten global public health threats facing humanity” (2021). AMR occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites change over time and no longer respond to medicines, making infections harder to treat and increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness and death. However, as for example my CSSM colleagues Jose Cañada, Salla Sariola and Andrea Butcher (2021) have observed, this dominant understanding of AMR only covers one aspect of microbial resistance. The current definition of AMR lacks understanding of the more-than-human, that is multi-species perspectives and ecosystems, while also addressing but not prioritizing human health. To frame such an understanding, the environment must be seen also as key to the development, transmission and spread of AMR to humans, more-than human entities and plants (UN Environmental Report 2022, 1). Many human activities create pollution which promotes the emergence of AMR in the environment and can cause animal or plant diseases or soil biodiversity loss (ibid; Gillings & Paulsen 2014). This leads to further use of antimicrobials that only increases the selective pressure across eco-systems (Gillings & Paulsen 2014). This problem of scale directly relates to social inequalities in low- and middle-income countries. Calibrating a society toward thinking critically about and through AMR resilience and prevention also requires attention to species interdependencies (Haraway 2008; Chandler et al 2016; Brives et al 2021) while refraining from reproducing social injustice issues between people further into interspecies considerations.

A crucial analytical tool in my work has been the concept of cis- and heteronormativity and its effects on ethical analyses, including the definition and application of principles like justice and vulnerability as a principal concept. One of the key queer feminist critiques of principles is that common morality that they presumably build on reproduces moral objectivity as an unsituated rationality that is prone to be biased toward the moral realities and views of those with more social power (Donchin 2001). Further, acknowledging the critical work of feminist philosophy regarding how the premises of Western philosophy are built on gendered, racialized, binary, and hierarchical concepts (Lloyd 1984; Code 2007; Lugones 1994; Anzaldúa 1999), bioethical theories must, as Rosemary Tong persists, include critical lenses clear enough to recognize the unjust power relations that result in wrongful distributions of limited resources, and a motivational force strong enough to prompt people who currently benefit from unjust power relations to renounce them (Tong 2013, 29–30). I have suggested a queer feminist posthuman framework as one of such lenses (Sudenkaarne 2021).

Feminist thinking of vulnerability has established the ethical relevance of becoming vulnerable (vulnera) (Shildrick 2000). In feminist bioethics, many of us are attuned to layered vulnerability, as introduced by Florencia Luna (2009; 2018). The metaphor of layers renders somebody vulnerable, not categorically vulnerableizes them, based on contexts, situations and structures (Sudenkaarne 2021). Layered vulnerability does neither render such subjects without agency nor make them politically passive, despite for example, being dependant on care (Clifford Simplican 2015). What is crucial is ethical analyses not only to detect but also to eradicate layers of vulnerabilities (Luna 2018). (Sudenkaarne, Vaittinen & Sariola 2021.) 

Often times groups whose needs are unintelligible from a gendered, heteronormative, white middle-class viewpoint, are excluded (Vaittinen 2022; Sudenkaarne, Vaittinen & Sariola 2021).  Hence population approach to vulnerable groups reproduces existing power structures that include racialized, gendered and ability- and age-based assumptions of helplessness. Such notions of vulnerability continues to shape its use – and hence, to vulnerableize (Tremaine 2020) those considered marginal.

Queer vulnerabilities meet antibiotic vulnerabilities

As part of my article dissertation (Sudenkaarne 2021) I developed layers of queer vulnerabilities focusing on intimacy, kinship, agency and ethical sustainability (Sudenkaarne 2019). During my time at CrimScapes I was invited to consider them in relation to politics of (in)visibility, which led me to revisit the notion of bioethical voyeurism.

To Wahlert and Fiester (2014) who originated queer bioethics as a distinct approach, bioethical voyeurism is overtly scrutinizing the sexual lifestyle choices and gendered embodiment of queer persons beyond clinical or ethical relevance, based on heteronormative discourses having a long history of an assumed entitlement, or even a mandate, to scrutinize the intimate life of queer persons. According to Wahlert and Fiester (2014: S59), medical professionals continue to occupy the role of sexual authorities in deciding sexual morals: that clinicians are often guided to ask sexuality related questions in a way that is as seemingly nonjudgmental as possible and in a manner that distinguishes between the behavior and the person. However, it is crucial to analyze how through such seemingly innocent implications, anti queer moral judgements are foisted into medical ethics. To Wahlert and Fiester (ibid.), the distinction of being “as non-judgemental as possible” can be made only against the backdrop of a profoundly negative judgment about the behavior itself. Moreover, it reinforces a moral critique of the activity as warranted, even though a negative judgment about the person, while perhaps justifiable, is not clinically appropriate. Despite queer sexual acts and behavior having been and persisting as the object of medical interest in some cases for diagnostic reasons, too, simply understanding this layer as vulnerability through sexual scrutiny would not suffice in my view. Bioethical voyeurism is a form of violence in the worst case and indeed interrogatory in the best case. Titillatingly, by using the term voyeurism Wahlert and Fiester provide an opportunity to play on the vocabulary of pathologization and fetish or, going even further back in the history of sexology, with associations with the perverse or queer. Including pejorative vocabulary as a methodological tool seeking queer bioethical empowerment may indicate beating the master with his own stick: turning scrutiny from the queer subject to the seemingly objective medical view by exposing their ethically unwarranted interest as inappropriate and perverse, achieved by looking at the history of medical ethics and ethics of sexuality through the queer bioethical lens. Such a conceptual backlash can also help to challenge carceral care through deviant care (Hwang 2019).

If to choose only one layer of vulnerabilities for analysis, focus on ethical sustainability is the most robust and overlapping. As established with bioethical voyeurism, it is fundamentally linked to value judgements based on hetero- and cis-normativity. It is important to determine whether medical or other interest in a case is based solely on gender and sexuality diversity, and does the case reinforce negative perceptions. A crucial comparison is to see whether the analysis or outcome is different for a cis- and heteronormative agent as opposed to a queer one, and in this analysis, does cis and heteronormativity become a necessary condition for moral coherence. My current interest is thinking about this normativity in the context of AMR and gender and sexual variance, following Eleanor E. MacPherson (2022) and colleagues’ notion of antibiotic vulnerability.

MacPherson and her team (2022) suggest to me a multilayered connection between vulnerability and AMR. One the hand, ineffectiveness of antimicrobials will have significant ramifications for health systems, where treatment of vulnerable patients is likely to become more challenging, as well as the treatment of everyday illness where next-line antibiotics are unavailable (McPherson et al 2022; Jasovský et al 2016). As we know, stemming resistance to antimicrobials – particularly antibiotics – has become a global priority as the decreasing efficacy of these previously taken-for-granted substances renders visible the vulnerability of our health, economics and security systems globally (McPherson et al 2022, 2632). Yet the proposed framework to address AMR – the WHO’s Global Action Plan (2015) – has primarily framed AMR as a problem of excess, centering overall reduction in antibiotic use as the main goal (McPherson et al 2022, 2632; Sariola et al 2022). Ushered in by ‘pharmaceuticalisation’ since the 1990’s, the shift from prevention of disease to pharmaceutical intervention and treatment (e.g. Bell & Figert 2015), McPherson and colleagues (2022, 2632) observe that over time AMR discourse has come to consider not only people themselves as vulnerable to resistant infections but antibiotics too as vulnerable resources.  As such, the expansion of stewardship programs that aim to protect medicines foregrounds certain forms of vulnerability. To them (ibid), an exploration of the intersection of the assumed and enacted vulnerabilities of both people and medicines has the potential to steer the course of stewardship, especially if these vulnerabilities can be traced as dynamic, emergent of systemic and programmatic features and amplified in contexts of scarcity. Further, they argue that these dynamics co-constitute a form of care that both responds to and creates antibiotic vulnerabilities. Dimensions of care in chronic scarcity present a scenario in which optimising antibiotic use will require not only stable availability of essential medicines but also a re-ordering of the system around provision of quality care rather than of medicines. So practices of case management can be understood to both respond to and create antibiotic vulnerabilities. (McPherson et al 2022, 2632.)

Based on their analysis, McPherson et al (2022, 2643) conclude that recognizing vulnerability often provokes a need to protect. Antibiotics are often portrayed as vulnerable, for example in awareness campaigns which call on publics and professionals to protect these medicines (e.g. Langdridge et al 2019). Patients are also vulnerable in the face of drug resistance, but moreover, they (ibid) show that by tracing out the ways in which antibiotics are deployed in case management in resource constrained settings, patients are also vulnerable to receiving sub-standard care that is provided through an unhelpful antibiotic. Similarly to previously discussed queer vulnerabilities critique against cis- and heteronormative bias in medical ethics, McPherson et al (2022, 2643) show that both patients and health workers police the boundaries of expected scripts of ‘care’, delivered without explanation, bolstering a scenario that perpetuates patient vulnerabilities. They conclude that ensuring a stable drug supply including antibiotics is vital but must be accompanied by wider changes that enable quality care to be performed and received beyond antibiotic-oriented case management. They propose context-specific programs be designed not only to protect vulnerable antibiotics, and patients vulnerable to antibiotic resistance, but also to protect patients from systems that have come to be organised around antibiotics, resulting in case management that leaves patients vulnerable to insufficient care. Building on their proposition that considering multiple dimensions of antibiotic vulnerabilities has conceptual promise as it can at once bring to the frame the vulnerability of antibiotics, people and systems, we plan to look at AMR, gender and sexuality for context-specific programs and specific antibiotic vulnerabilities.

Further, what we have called for in our work at the CSSM is an approach to issues like AMR that theoretically seeks to reject human exceptionalism in health and justice. While I plan not to go into detail of the posthumanist component of my queer feminist posthuman framework here, suffice is to say that such a perspective, attuned to both social and more-than huma-justice is crucial to show how seemingly unified stakeholders, such as power structures within human networks or similar more-than-human networks, have intersecting, layered vulnerabilities that align with existing social justice issues reproduced by the concept of race, ability/embodiment, and gender and sexuality (cf. McKnight 2022; Will 2018; Sariola et al 2022). In such structures, reproduced through social practice, those already marginalized are at higher risk to become vulnerableized (cf. Tremain 2020), such as sex workers. For example, Manuya and colleques (2022) have shown how with the threat of AMR and entrenched gender disparities, sex workers are vulnerable to greater surveillance, stigmatization, and criminalization “to control both infections and women”. This also reveals a lacuna of queer positioning in AMR frameworks, including mapping out specific needs and vulnerabilities (cf. Charles et al 2022; Yingwana 2022). Further, such a framework should be able to address multispecies vulnerabilities. (Sudenkaarne 2023.)

As I have discussed, there is a lacuna in moral theory to navigate gender and sexual variance as normative component when addressing phenomena like AMR that demand answers to core philosophical questions. What kinds of subjects can we imagine as morally significant? How are multispecies relations managed without prioritizing human ways of being? How are intersecting layers of vulnerabilities minimized between groups of people? Is species an oppressive category or in fact needed to ground subversive politics? How to move from human-oriented use of technology to solutions benefitting the entire global ecosystem? (Sudenkaarne 2023.)

Vulnerability as politics of visibility

In answering these questions, to me it is crucial to see how vulnerabilities and justice are integrally connected while still remaining distinct realms of conceptual inquiry. In establishing layers of vulnerability in superwicked contexts like AMR, visibility is key for both politics and ethics: to acknowledge and address specific needs and injustices that may be in part reproduced through biased scientific modes of viewing that require similar ethical scrutiny as any politics.

Under the quintessentially volatile conditions from pandemics to wars of aggression, it is crucial to map out current European trends of cis and heteronormativity –based criminalisation targeting LGBTQI+ people. For me poignantly, there remains a lacuna in research literature that addresses conscientious objection in a queer feminist framework, targeting both reproductive justice issues around pregnancy but also a wider scope of legislative apparatuses seeking to extend the legal rights of health care professionals to cite their personal religious or moral beliefs as a reason to opt out of performing specific procedures or caring for particular patients, even for their basic needs. This can be seen as a direct attack on specific lives as rooted in “animus against some of the most marginalized and vulnerable communities” (Sudenkaarne 2021, 57; Bollinger 2019).    

CrimScapes of Care

Working with CrimScapes has left me with a further motivation to analytically grasp the motivations behind, and challenges and implications of, criminalisation for the variety of actors and practices that (re-)shape entangled landscapes of criminalization in relation to carceral care, a grim landscape between caring, curing and control. To Hwang (2019, 561), carceral care is not simply the deterrence, reduction, or interruption of carceral violence; rather, it is a mode of tracing how the penal administration of care multiplies the very scales, technologies, and cultural structures of violence itself. Disrupting those very impulses to be trapped by the rigged gamble that is carceral care requires to inhabit “a deviant set of relations” not only to the state but also to one another (ibid). Hwang asks, how might we resist and build our collective capacity to continuously trouble our notions of care? How might we resist both inferred and overt modes of racialized and gendered pathologies of individuated care that require the weaponization of personhood (ibid)? How might we account for the dualisms embedded within care—success or failure, curable or incurable, rehabilitated or recidivistic (ibid)? To Hwang, care, even in its etymological tie to cure, is not necessarily carceral. However, the attendant logics of care mimic a curative model of carcerality by requiring individuated pathologies as central to administrative measures of correction. (Hwang 2019, 561.) For future research would be to think about the carcerality of care in relation to criminalization and healthcare systems – how they create moral harms through care – in a queer feminist posthuman framework.


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Sex Work under Conditions of War in Ukraine: Observations and Recommendations

By Agata Dziuban

[During the war] sex workers go through the same hardship and deprivation [as everyone else], only their burden is multiplied by criminalisation, economic and social vulnerability, legal insecurity, stigma and lack of state support. (Legalife-Ukraine)

This blog post consists of extracts from the “Regional Assessment of the Impact of the War in Ukraine on Sex-Workers and Sex-Worker-Led Organisations in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia” developed by CrimScapes team member Agata Dziuban with and for the Sex Workers’ Rights Advocacy Network (SWAN). Analysing the impact of the war in Ukraine on sex worker communities, this policy brief builds on desk research, community research, and direct consultations with sex worker-led organisations in Ukraine and other countries of the CEECA region. Excerpts presented in this blog post focus, specifically, on how the war has affected the living and working conditions of sex workers in Ukraine contributing to various economic and work-related precarities. Additionally, this post explores the continuities and shifts in policing and law enforcement strategies sex workers in Ukraine are exposed to under conditions of war. Eventually, it looks into sex worker community-driven responses to the humanitarian, economic and socio- political crises caused by the war, and explores efforts undertaken by Legalife-Ukraine and individual sex workers with the aim to challenge criminalisation of sex work in Ukraine. The full version of the report can be found here.

Dziuban, A. (2023) Regional Assessment of the Impact of the War in Ukraine on Sex-Workers and Sex-Worker-Led Organisations in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. SWAN.

The War in Ukraine – An Overview

The launch of the large-scale armed attack by the Russian Federation on Ukraine on February 24th 2022 has heavily impacted the safety and security of Ukrainian citizens. As of October 9th 2023, 27,768 civilian casualties were recorded in the country, among them 9,806 killed and 17,962 injured – with the actual toll estimated to be higher.[1] In many cities, infrastructure facilities, residential buildings, and other institutions have been destroyed, and residents do not have access to food, running water, and heating; many have also lost their homes. The war has also forced many people to flee their homes in search of safety. An estimated 5.1 million Ukrainians are internally displaced and more than 6.2 million have crossed into neighbouring countries in the European Union and globally.[2]

The war has significantly impacted the overall economic situation in Ukraine, leading to a drastic deterioration of the living conditions of its citizens. In 2022 Ukrainian GDP declined by 29.2 per cent, with the poverty rate increasing from 5.5 to 24.2 per cent pushing 7.1 million more people into poverty.[3]  This contributed to the sharp rise of unemployment rates, up to 35 per cent at the end of 2022, leaving many people without livelihoods and means of survival. As reported by the UN, 17.6 million Ukrainians are in need of life-saving and life-sustaining humanitarian aid and protection.[4]  

The War’s impact on sex workers in Ukraine

Even before the outbreak of war, sex workers in Ukraine had been subjected to criminalisation, discrimination, and harsh policing.[5] The Ukrainian state penalises people providing sexual services and imposes criminal sanctions on third parties managing, organising and facilitating sex work.[6] Sex workers working online are also subject to prosecution under laws criminalising the production and distribution of pornographic content. These unfavourable policies and pervasive stigma compromise sex workers’ well-being and safety, health, and access to essential services. Criminalisation and exclusion from the state’s duty to care puts sex workers at disproportionate risk of abuse, violence, and harm, also on the part of law enforcement agencies.[7]

The humanitarian crisis caused by the full-scale Russian military attack on Ukraine exacerbated these pre-existing inequalities, greatly affecting marginalised and underserved communities, including sex workers. As reported by Legalife-Ukraine, the war has further increased the level of vulnerability among sex workers in Ukraine, exposing them to further violations and precarity. […]

Sex work under conditions of war

War hostilities have adversely affected the living and working realities of Ukrainian sex workers, as well as the overall situation in the sex industry. According to Legalife-Ukraine,[8] 71,5 per cent of sex workers surveyed in April 2022 did not stop providing services following the outbreak of war. Despite increased war-related dangers, sex workers reported huge economic pressure and greater reliance on income from sex work as the main factors that kept them at work. In turn, 19 per cent of surveyed sex workers left sex work in the first months of the war due to forced migration, war-related risks, decreasing income, and deteriorating working conditions. Many of them, however, resumed sex work later on. Simultaneously, conditions of war and the resulting economic situation have also contributed to an influx of women into the sex industry. As reported by Legalife-Ukraine, 9,5 and 11 per cent of respondents – in April 2022 and April 2023, respectively – declared they had taken up sex work after the outbreak of the war.[9] […]

Simultaneously, sex workers reported a significant worsening of their working conditions and a decrease in income:

There is less work, earnings have dropped, the risks are greater, it’s scary to go out to work. (respondent from Ukraine)

[…] Forced migration, rising unemployment, high inflation rates, and drastic increases in prices of food, housing, and other essential products and services, left many sex workers across Ukraine in destitution, without money to meet their basic needs and secure their livelihoods. As indicated by the Legalife-Ukraine survey report, 98 per cent of sex workers questioned in April 2023 reported a sharp deterioration of their financial situation,[10]and almost all sex workers interviewed for this study noted that their earning from sex work has decreased significantly due to reduced working hours, lower number of clients, and war-related challenges to the provision of sexual services.

Since the beginning of the war, the average income level in most sex workers’ families has fallen by 25-50 per cent. The economic pressure is particularly great for single mothers and those whose husbands or partners lost jobs or were drafted. Becoming the sole breadwinners and carers for their families, they are facing a heavier burden to provide for their children or elderly parents.

Deterioration of working conditions

Direct war hostilities, air strikes, shelling, and rocket attacks have exposed sex workers to imminent dangers at work:

Before the war, sex workers worked individually, looking for clients on the street, more often in the evening and at night. When rocket attacks, frequent air raids, and curfews began, the work became more dangerous and difficult to organise. (Legalife-Ukraine)

Additionally, since the introduction of martial law on February 24th 2022,[11] a night curfew has been in effect in most parts of the country. Depending on the region and the security situation, citizens are not allowed to be outside from 11 or 12 p.m. to 5 or 6 a.m., and public transport and other facilities do not operate at this time. As a result, many sex workers have been forced to change their working routines.

Sex workers who used to work outdoors cannot work anymore. They try to limit their work and not to move around during curfew, they try to finish work before curfew, irrespective whether they have had a client or earned anything. The same with sex workers working indoors, they try to finish work early, because otherwise they would be stuck in their workplace. That is why some sex workers try not to work at night, although previously they would choose working at night due to child care and other obligations. (Legalife-Ukraine)

The introduction of restrictions on movement has contributed to a decrease in sex workers’ mobility, making it more difficult to travel to other cities or regions of Ukraine to work and to travel to outcalls within their cities. This translates into shorter working hours, fewer clients and a drastic reduction in earnings.

As a result of the curfews and war hostilities, many sex workers interviewed had to change their work settings. Several women previously working in collective workplaces decided to work on their own, individually, in their flats or trusted venues (cafes/hotels/saunas) to avoid encounters with the police and to increase their safety. Some gave up outdoor work and started to arrange meetings with their clients indoors, primarily at their homes. For some, this decision has been motivated by the greater influx of women providing sexual services from other regions of Ukraine, in particular IDPs [internally displaced persons], and rising competition among sex workers. It has been reported that in some regions of Ukraine, the increase in the number of people selling sex has led to a decrease in the prices of sexual services.  Some sex workers previously working indoors or outdoors, have taken up online work, such as webcamming or posting content on dedicated websites. This allowed them to secure safer working conditions and combine work with care obligations:  

I went online, it’s safer, on my own territory, quiet, with fewer clients. Of course, my earnings have halved, but at least I can look after my mum and grandmother. (respondent from Ukraine)

However safe, online work proves challenging not only because of decreases in income but also due to power outages and blackouts that have become common in Ukraine since the outbreak of the war – a consequence of the targeted destruction of critical infrastructure by the Russian army. Moreover, sex workers working online risk criminal charges under laws banning the production and distribution of pornography, a provision actively challenged by the Ukrainian sex worker community.

While the demand for sexual services decreased due to the war hostilities and economic hardship, many sex workers reported an increased presence of soldiers and military personnel among their clients, particularly in the regions near the frontlines or stationing the army. Interviewed sex workers had varying opinions on working with soldiers and draftees. Some praised them for their sympathetic and caring attitudes, and for providing financial support to them and their families. Others pointed to challenges related to, in particular, mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, problematic alcohol use, tension and aggression among soldiers and other military personnel directly exposed to atrocities of war. To reduce risks, most sex workers spoke about undertaking various safety measures at work: they are more careful in choosing clients, do not accept clients on drugs or alcohol, negotiate details and prices in advance, and try not to use alcohol or drugs with clients and at work.

Policing in times of war

Even before the war, sex workers across Ukraine were subjected to harsh policing, penalties (usually in the form of monetary fines) and various abuses from law enforcement agencies. As noted by Legalife-Ukraine, the war did not have a significant impact on sex workers’ interactions with the police. While police presence in sex workers’ venues might have been reduced in some regions of the country, sex workers working in different parts of Ukraine declare being exposed to contact with the police on a daily basis. These interactions – following the “rules” established before the outbreak of the war – usually involve paying a fine/bribe for the provision of sexual services and receiving a receipt (in the form of a protocol) confirming that the payment has been made. One interviewee from Ukraine explained:

Most of them know us, they charge us 100-200 UAH per day for protocol. We do not fight with them, we use the protocol as a receipt, a proof that we paid today. When others [police officers or law enforcement agents] come, we show them these protocols as a proof that we have already paid to others today. (respondent from Ukraine)

Additionally, Legalife-Ukraine reported that police raids targeting third parties, such as venue owners, managers and others organising sexual labour, are continuously carried out in sex work venues, with a noticeable increase in the number of raids in some regions of the country. Police interventions push many sex workers to work individually and alone in fear of prosecution under third-party charges. As mentioned above, cases of pornography-related charges against sex workers working online have also been reported since the outbreak of the war.

One of the key issues highlighted by sex workers taking part in this study is the increased presence of military administrations in all regions of Ukraine. Established to implement martial law, military administrations are given special powers and prerogatives in providing defence and ensuring public safety and order. Many sex workers expressed uncertainty and fear about potential encounters with military personnel and administration, as their powers, as well as jurisdiction over sex workers, are not entirely clear and differ from those granted to the police:

Sex workers know how to engage with the police, because they have long-standing relations with them, but they don’t know how to engage with the military. They have slightly different jurisdiction, they have different entitlements than the police. They have different obligations and it is not quite clear what the military can do when they check your documents. Will they detain you to clarify who you are? Or will they do something to you? That is why people are saying that they are afraid of engaging with the military, because they don’t know what the consequences are. (Legalife-Ukraine)

As noted in the quote above, this is particularly relevant for sex workers lacking identification documents (national or international passports) that were lost, for instance, during forced displacement. Deprived of resources to restore their documents, sex workers fear going out, also during the day, as they might be stopped and interrogated by the military.

Trans women providing sexual services have another reason to fear encounters with military personnel, as they might be drafted due to wrong gender markers in their legal documents. As a result, they often try to avoid public places and working outdoors where they could be apprehended. Trans sex workers seeking refuge abroad also risk being stopped and drafted at border crossings if they have the wrong gender marker on their passports.   

Additionally, sex workers working outdoors or travelling for work at night risk being subjected to financial penalties for breaching curfew restrictions. While Ukrainian legislation does not impose legal liability for violating curfew, Legalife-Ukraine noted that some sex workers were subjected to financial punishment by the police or military personnel, and these penalties are much higher than fines for the provision of sexual services. […]

Community response to the war

Following the war’s outbreak, Legalife-Ukraine promptly mobilised to assist Ukraine’s sex worker community, assessing the immediate needs of sex workers and adapting their priorities to address the challenges posed by the conflict.

Their primary focus was ensuring sex workers’ survival during wartime and providing humanitarian aid. The United Front of Ukrainian Sex Workers was established early in the conflict, uniting the remaining community leaders and activists who had not fled Ukraine. By April 2022, the organisation had surveyed 12 regions, pinpointing the most critical needs of their communities. Consequently, they concentrated on distributing food, water, medicines, hygienic products, warm clothing, and essential resources.

Legalife-Ukraine  […] delivered 780 food kits, 780 hygienic product kits, and 370 essential medicine kits to sex workers. Those in war-affected regions received additional support, including power banks, generators, flashlights, heaters, sleeping bags, and water purification tablets. The organisation also secured temporary shelter and housing for displaced sex workers and covered transportation expenses for evacuation and healthcare access.

To assist sex workers in restoring legal documents and applying for state benefits, including child support and IDP support, Legalife-Ukraine offered financial and logistical support. They addressed the mental health needs of sex workers affected by the war, providing psychological consultations through a hotline and online chats. Local activists ensured access to healthcare, HIV services, harm reduction, OST programs, and legal aid.

Throughout the war, Legalife-Ukraine has supported internally displaced sex workers and those leaving Ukraine. They facilitated connections with sex worker-led organisations and service providers in neighbouring states, helping sex workers find housing, protected status, healthcare enrollment, and educational opportunities for their children.

The organisation has also been engaged in providing essential and up-to-date information to sex worker communities across the country via its website, social media and communicators. Legalife has been informing its constituencies about the social and political situation in Ukraine; legal security, rights and entitlements under wartime conditions; possibilities of obtaining humanitarian assistance (e.g. location of aid and distribution points, legal services and support schemes available to IDPs and victims of war); evacuation procedures on territories affected by the war hostilities or occupied; obtaining refugee status abroad, etc. […]

Advocacy and Decriminalisation Efforts in Ukraine

Members of the All-Ukrainian Union “the Council of Leaders of Sex Workers of Ukraine” actively contribute to advocacy and information strategies for decriminalising sex work in Ukraine. They collect data on sex worker needs and represent the community at local and national levels. They’ve developed an intervention plan for the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria and collaborate with HIV/AIDS Coordination Councils and Country Coordination Mechanism to assess the Global Fund’s programs in the context of the Russian military aggression and post-war period.

Despite challenges due to the socio-political climate and the war, the organisation achieved success in repealing criminal sanctions against sex workers operating online. Previously, sex workers engaged in online activities faced criminal charges for producing and distributing pornography. Criticism of the Ukrainian pornography ban, particularly in light of the OnlyFans fundraiser for Ukrainian war efforts, played a pivotal role. In March 2023, sex workers initiated the “TerOnlyFans” (Territorial Defence OnlyFans) charity project, collecting approximately $800,000 in donations for Ukrainian defence forces and IDP support in exchange for nude photos and erotic content.[12] This initiative ignited public interest and mobilisation for decriminalising pornography in Ukraine.[13]

Over recent months, Legalife-Ukraine, alongside partner organisations like 100% LIFE NGO, Institute for Legislative Ideas, Better Regulation Delivery Office (BRDO), TerOnlyFans, DEJURE Foundation, and the Centre for Economic Strategy, actively challenged Ukraine’s pornography ban. They participated in policy meetings and public hearings aimed at revising the Penal Code. Their efforts bore fruit as a legislative proposal to remove provisions criminalising consensual provision and distribution of erotic content has been submitted to the Supreme Council of Ukraine, awaiting a vote in the near future. […]

Conclusions and recommendations

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as the resulting cost-of-living crisis, have severely affected sex worker communities and organisations in Ukraine and other Central and Eastern European and Central Asian countries. As demonstrated by this report, sex workers across the region are facing dire poverty, deterioration of working conditions, rampant policing, and severe barriers to accessing essential services, including healthcare and existing support schemes. Subject to structural and institutional violence and abandoned by the state, sex worker communities across the region can often only count on support provided by sex worker-led organisations and dedicated service providers. All of the groups included in this research mobilised to provide humanitarian aid and all the necessary services to ensure sex workers’ survival in times of war-related crisis. However, sex worker-led initiatives and organisations themselves are facing significant political and funding challenges.

The following recommendations have been developed by organisations contributing to this report. Their fulfilment would reduce sex workers’ vulnerability to the crisis caused by the war and war-related economic pressures, strengthening sex worker-led collectives in providing their communities with apt and lifesaving support:

For policymakers:

  • Decriminalise sex work and recognise sex work as work. Only full sex work decriminalisation can guarantee sex workers’ access to their human, civil and labour rights and can protect sex workers’ communities from rights violations, exploitation and violence.
  • Adequately address the vulnerability of women and girls to gender-based, war-related sexual violence and trafficking. Do not introduce legal measures that contribute to the criminalisation and policing of sex worker communities.
  • Remove all the harmful and discriminatory narcophobic, homophobic, transphobic and anti-migrant legal provisions that hinder rights access for the most vulnerable and marginalised communities. Secure functional human rights protective mechanisms against discrimination, violence and institutional exclusion. 
  • Remove all legal measures that target civil society organisations and restrict their ability to operate […]. Create a favourable environment for NGOs, service providers and community-led organisations providing services to vulnerable and marginalised communities.
  • Sex worker-led groups and organisations providing direct services to sex workers should be involved in the planning, development, implementation and evaluation of policies that affect sex worker communities, including humanitarian aid and war-related relief, prevention and support schemes.
  • Sex workers’ health, social, and economic vulnerabilities should be recognised and addressed in governmental relief programming, including war-related and economic crisis-related support schemes. Sex workers and other marginalised communities, including LGBTQIA communities, people who use drugs, people experiencing homelessness, and those operating in informal economies should be granted access to state support, benefits and protections.
  • Newly emerging trends in war-related migration and mobility should be monitored and adequately addressed. All people fleeing war and prosecution should be included in relief schemes and granted support regardless of their nationality, citizenship, and legal status. Undocumented persons have a right to cross borders and seek shelter and protection in case of war or other humanitarian crises.
  • All legal barriers and discriminatory provisions preventing refugees and both internal and international migrants from accessing healthcare and other support services should be removed. Both undocumented and documented migrants should be granted unconditional access to the same primary and secondary healthcare services available to all citizens.
  • Policing strategies should not single out marginalised communities, including sex workers, and ought not to be enacted in an arbitrary, discriminatory and  disproportionate manner. Police using unjustified and illegitimate violence based on profiling and prejudice should be held accountable and adequately prosecuted.  Police violence should be recognised as a structural issue and addressed by the state. […]





[5] SWAN (2019), Sex Work Legal Frameworks in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Briefing paper.; SWAN (2015), FAILURES OF JUSTICE State and Non-State Violence Against Sex Workers and the Search for Safety and Redress,

[6] SWAN (2019), Sex Work Legal Frameworks in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Briefing paper.;

[7] Legalife-Ukraine (2018), Обнаружение барьеров в доступе и оценка качества услуг для секс-работников, изучение их потребностей с целью повышения эффективности программ уменьшения вреда, профилактики и лечения ВИЧ/СПИДа в Украине», 2017-2018гг., Аналитический центр «Социоконсалтинг», при поддержке AFEW Интернешнл).

[8] Legalife-Ukraine (2023), Aналітичний звіт За результатами оцінки потреб сп в умовах війни Та впливу проєктів з надання підтримки сп (в рамках реалізації проєкту за підтримки ACTIONAID).

[9]  Legalife-Ukraine (2023), Aналітичний звіт За результатами оцінки потреб сп в умовах війни Та впливу проєктів з надання підтримки сп (в рамках реалізації проєкту за підтримки ACTIONAID).

[10] Legalife-Ukraine (2023), Aналітичний звіт За результатами оцінки потреб сп в умовах війни Та впливу проєктів з надання підтримки сп (в рамках реалізації проєкту за підтримки ACTIONAID).




On archives and the long shadow of the ‘vagrant’ in Finnish parliamentary debate  

By Juulia Kela

A screenshot from the Finnish Parliamentary Archives from 1932. 

In conducting archival research for the CrimScapes project’s first phase on genealogies of different figures of crime, I tried to keep in mind something I once read in an interview from the phenomenal Marcus Rediker, who writes “histories from below” of slave rebellions, pirates, and abolition. I recall reading that Rediker ended up writing an entire book on a previously less known abolitionist ally, Quaker dwarf Benjamin Lay, by keeping hold of fascinating archival details that he found while working on an altogether different piece of historical research.  

So, while piecing together a genealogy of the ‘infectious criminal’ through Finnish parliamentary archives (scouring through parliamentary discussions on sex work, vagrancy, and prison camps to find where, how, and who was punished for transmitting diseases, especially sexually transmitted ones), I kept a folder of tangential archival traces. The above screenshot is one such trace. It is a section of a parliamentary debate from 1932 on the Vagrancy Act, in which the speaker argues that:  

“We cannot afford to waste the nation’s strength or to see how crime is increasing precisely through this army of vagrants. Current vagrancy laws are far too complicated, long and inefficient. That is why I believe it is important that the concept of vagrancy should be expanded and that all necessary measures be taken before this crowd of vagrants has grown so large that it in fact terrorises the whole of society and the state.”   

I suspect that this little passage casts a long shadow into current parliamentary and similar official political discourses of the Other in Finland. In this passage alone, we see a glimpse of the creation and casting out of vagrancy from ‘society’. We see in action the official narration of both the acceptable citizen – the docile wage labourer – and the figure of the vagrant, whom the former is at threat of being ‘terrorised’ by.  

I never used this passage in the paper on the ‘infectious criminal’ I ended up writing (to be published alongside some of my CrimScapes colleagues’ and affiliates later this year in a Special Issue)  – but more than once, I have found myself returning to it while discussing nationalism with my friends and acquaintances. Contemporarily, delineations of belonging and non-belonging are visibly harsh yet often unacknowledged in Finnish public, parliamentary, and media spheres. The state is clearly benevolent towards those narrated and defined as belonging to it, but (according to this narrative, obscurely) punitive towards those deviating from a productive, docile, white Nordic-ness. This phenomenon has been written about as the ‘Janus face’ of Nordic regimes of punishment by sociologist Vanessa Barker.  

In the above parliamentary debate, with the language that is used, we see how vagrancy hands itself as one of the genealogical nodes of many current forms of the Other in Finland – be it sex workers, racialised migrants (which extends itself to how the genocide in Gaza, Palestine and Palestinians have been portrayed in Finnish media since last fall), people who use drugs, or the unemployed. This archived piece of debate is fascinating – it brings us to genealogies which break the fiction of a unified Finnish past.