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Prof. India Thusi on Structural Inequality in the Criminal Justice System

Prof. India Thusi

This summer California Western’s Prof. India Thusi delivered a series of presentations encompassing the structural inequality in the criminal justice system focusing on the criminalization of vices, the policing of sex work, and the blurred line between prostitution and pornography.

Earlier this summer, Prof. Thusi presented at the Law and Society Association Annual Conference in Toronto focusing on a paper she is publishing at the end of the year in the Utah Law Review entitled Harm, Sex, and Consequences.

“What I propose in this article is we adopt the approach that I've described as distributive consequentialism,” says Prof. Thusi. “I take the example of sex work as one way where criminalization is intended to protect a group of individuals, but there's a lot of research that shows that criminalization actually often drives it further underground and creates more violence for the people that it intended to protect.”

Last month, Prof. Thusi presented at the Lutie Lytle Conference at SMU Law School in Dallas. She presented a paper titled Policing Beauty discussing how subjective perceptions of beauty and bodily currency shape how police officers police women. She also workshopped this paper at the Culp Colloquium at Stanford Law School earlier in the summer.

“What this paper argues is that policing is not just about protecting public order it actually also reflects the desire to protect sexual and racial hierarchies,” says Prof. Thusi. “The example I used to illustrate this is the policing of sex work in Johannesburg.”

Based on empirical research Prof. Thusi found that sex workers beauty impacted how often police officers would interact with them. The findings showed that where police thought that someone's body is more valued in the hierarchy their reactions to those individuals was quite different than people that they thought could be devalued.

“The reason the South African context is relevant in the United States,” says Prof. Thusi, “is that both countries have a shared history of racial apartheid and in both, there have been tense relationships between the police and communities of color.”

Most recently, Prof. Thusi presented a paper at the AALS Criminal Justice Section CrimFest in New York on the blurred lines between pornography and sex work, and the role of criminalization.

“In this early draft paper, I explore ways in which technology complicates our understanding about what prostitution and pornography are,” says Prof. Thusi.

Prof. Thusi uses the hypothetical where people can basically engage in transactions related to prostitution, but they can broadcast it using Snapchat-like software where they can blur their faces and maintain some anonymity.

“My question is,” says Prof. Thusi, “can this sort of technology transform an ordinary prostitution transaction into pornography and therefore make it protectable?”

“There are two ways that this may happen,” she continues. “Through the way that the transactions are structured so that payments can be arranged not directly from one customer to another person, or by transforming an ordinary sexual act into some sort of artwork thereby protecting it as a matter of course under the First Amendment.”

Prof. Thusi, who has been appointed the co-chair of the ABA Criminal Justice Section Academics Committee, is set to continue her busy schedule in the fall including organizing a writing workshop for law professors and undertaking further presentations.