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Sex, money and power: deconstructing moral panic around street prostitution in St Kilda

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posted on 2023-01-18, 16:58 authored by Maitland Newkirk Peterson
Submission note: A thesis submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the Rural Health School, Faculty of Health Sciences, La Trobe University, Bendigo.

This thesis documents the struggle of the Australian inner-Melbourne suburb of St Kilda in grappling with the long-standing presence of street prostitution. Street prostitution has been a defining feature of St Kilda since World War II. In the 1970s, the process of gentrification set in and began to alter the suburb’s demography and built environment. By the late 1990s gentrification had accelerated and St Kilda had been transformed from a run-down suburb with a reputation for criminal activity, drug use and prostitution, to a ‘cleaned-up’, fashionable suburb populated by well-educated, upwardly mobile, professionals. The changes brought about by gentrification heralded a renewed determination to tackle street prostitution amongst some members of the community. In this thesis I examine the period 1997 to 2003 during which community concerns about street prostitution were played out in a public debate that engulfed not only local residents and traders, but also police, the media, local and state governments and the broader Victorian community. Two theoretical frameworks underpin the research: moral panic theory and Foucault’s analytics on the interplay between discourse, power and knowledge. Foucault’s work is used to extend moral panic theory and to provide better understanding of how moral panics are constructed. This research reveals a shifting public debate driven by stakeholders with interests to protect. Concerns about street prostitution were often entangled with moral undertones, anxieties about property prices and loss of business. Stakeholders argued that street prostitutes needed to be regulated, managed and removed from the suburb. The Government-appointed Advisory Group recommended tolerance areas for dealing with the problem. With no readily identifiable locations for tolerance areas, stakeholders asserted ‘not on our doorsteps’. Community pressure forced the State Government to abandon the recommendations and, in the end, little changed other than street prostitution became a less significant concern for the community.


Center or Department

Faculty of Health Sciences. Rural Health School.

Thesis type

  • Ph. D.

Awarding institution

La Trobe University

Year Awarded


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This thesis contains third party copyright material which has been reproduced here with permission. Any further use requires permission of the copyright owner. The thesis author retains all proprietary rights (such as copyright and patent rights) over all other content of this thesis, and has granted La Trobe University permission to reproduce and communicate this version of the thesis. The author has declared that any third party copyright material contained within the thesis made available here is reproduced and communicated with permission. If you believe that any material has been made available without permission of the copyright owner please contact us with the details.

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