Whose Place is This Space? Life in the Street Prostitution Area of Helsinki, Finland


In recent years, there has been growing interest in questions of gender, sexuality and space in geography and within this field of enquiry prostitution has been acknowledged as an important subject for geographical research. This article explores street prostitution in the Finnish context, where it has only been a widely known phenomenon since the 1990s. The subjective and intersubjective images attached to the issue will be interpreted through an analysis of two types of data: newspaper articles and in–depth interviews conducted among local residents and social workers. In addition to the subjective/intersubjective dimension, a narrative of the changing social geographies of prostitution will be reconstructed. The article focuses on the spatial strategies of women, (hetero)sexualization of the street and the process of ‘othering’. In Finland the expanding sex industry caused a huge stir in the media because prior to the 1990s prostitution had played a largely invisible role in society. Due to economic and social changes in the 1990s, the notion of Finland as a homogenous welfare state began to break down, and marginal groups became more visible in public space. The change was so sudden that no political or cultural practices to deal with these issues had been established, as the article shows.