Ronald Weitzer

Ronald Weitzer (1952-) is a sociologist specializing in criminology and a professor at George Washington University, known for his publications on police-minority relations and on the sex industry.

Research and views

Prostitution and sex trafficking

Weitzer has authored a number of papers on the sex industry, with a focus on American policies toward prostitution laws and sex trafficking. Regarding American domestic prostitution policy, he advocates what he calls a "two-track" policy toward enforcement of prostitution laws. One "track" involves intensified law enforcement toward street prostitution (targeting both street prostitutes and their customers), arguing that street prostitution victimizes host communities and leaves the prostitutes themselves open to victimization. The second "track" involves what he calls "de facto decriminalization" of indoor prostitution, that is, the non-enforcement by police departments of laws against various forms of indoor prostitution, such as escorting, massage parlors, and brothels, even while such laws stay on the books. Weitzer holds that that these kinds of activities typically have little effect on the surrounding community and that enforcing laws against such practices involves involve time-consuming sting operations that waste police resources. Weitzer argues that this "two track" approach reflects public preferences regarding the proper focus of law enforcement, is a more efficient use of law enforcement resources, and is guided by the principle of harm reduction. He has stated that his "two track" policy recommendation cannot be neatly reduced to advocacy of "decriminalization" or "legalization".

Weitzer has been highly critical of the abolitionist position on prostitution and the conflation of all sex work with sex trafficking. While agreeing that sex trafficking is a real phenomenon, he argues that the scale of it has been greatly exaggerated by abolitionist organizations, such as the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. He also argues against claims that prostitution universally involves coercion and violence and that legalization would make such problems worse, claiming that research has shown that carefully regulated legal prostitution, in parts of the world where it exists, greatly increases the safety and job satisfaction of sex workers. He also argues against what he views as the demonization of customers in anti-prostitution arguments. He has stated that the exaggeration of the scale of violence and trafficking in the sex industry, the demonization of customers, and the call for a punitive response to such problems by prostitution abolitionists amounts to a moral panic.

He further argues that prostitution abolitionists are largely motivated by ideology, generally radical feminism or Christian right views, and this ideologically-driven view taints research and statistics about prostitution and trafficking offered by researchers and groups that advocate this position. He has been particularly critical of the claims of anti-prostitution writers such as Janice Raymond, Donna M. Hughes, and Melissa Farley for such reasons. Weitzer also holds that the Bush administration and its congressional allies have strongly embraced prostitution abolitionist views as a justification for a crackdown on the sex industry.

Weitzer's views have been in turn criticized by prostitution abolitionist Melissa Farley. She argues that all science is infused with values and that the assumptions of both abolitionist and pro-legalization researchers guide the hypotheses that drive such research. Farley has criticized Weitzer's perspective, claiming that his views place the perspectives of the surrounding community and of customers ahead of that of women in prostitution. Farley also claims that research has shown that indoor prostitutes are as vulnerable to violence as outdoor prostitutes, but that such violence is simply less visible to the larger community. Weitzer responds that it is possible to carry out objective research on the sex industry and that abolitionists have simply failed to do so. He also denies viewing prostitution solely from the point of view of the nonprostitute community, and that the views of both prostitutes and nonprostitutes are far from monolithic, in any event.

Police-minority relations

Weitzer has done research on police-minority relations in Israel, Northern Ireland, South Africa, and the United States, including studies of racial profiling and police misconduct and racially-biased policing. His research has used multiple research methods. He conducted in-depth interviews and observations of police-citizen interactions in a major study of policing in three neighborhoods in Washington, DC. Each neighborhood was either racially or economically distinct -- a black middle-class community, white middle-class community, and an impoverished black community. Major differences were found between the three neighborhoods in their perceptions of the DC police and the kinds of interactions and experiences neighborhood residents had with police officers. Prior to this study, Weitzer conducted major research on police-community relations in Northern Ireland, comparing four types of Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. The study resulted in his 1995 book, Policing Under Fire. Recently, Weitzer has analyzed survey data (with Badi Hasisi) on Arabs and Jews opinions of the Israel Police. Weitzer and Tuch published a book on Americans' views and personal experiences with the police, entitled Race and Policing in America: Conflict and Reform. In addition, Weitzer has examined the effects of major, well-publicized incidents of police misconduct (such as brutality and corruption) on public opinion toward to the police in New York and Los Angeles. This study found that public confidence in the police eroded dramatically after each incident, incidents that were given intensive media coverage. Although satisfaction with the police gradually rebounded years after the incident, this process took longer for African-Americans and Hispanics than for white residents of the two cities.

Major publications


Journal and anthology articles

External links

By Weitzer

Index: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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