The Enforcement of Morality: Law, Policing and Sexuality in New South Wales

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Publication details

JournalAustralian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology
DatePublished - Dec 2010
Issue number3
Number of pages24
Pages (from-to)399-422
Original languageEnglish


This article addresses the policing of consensual sexual activity in public places in New South Wales (NSW), Australia. It draws upon data produced during a qualitative study conducted in NSW that involved semistructured interviews with key professionals who have specialist knowledge of this area of policing. Using these interview data and an analysis of NSW Police policy documents, the article considers operational policing within the broader context of contemporary NSW law. It argues that the legal construction of public sex offences facilitates forms of police discretion that, because of the social and moral landscape in which such discretion takes place, encourages the disproportionate social control of male homosexual conduct. By thinking of policing as a dynamic arena in which competing moral values are brought into tension, the article explores how the moral decision-making of police officers (a product of their ‘moral habitus’) determines the scope and application of the law. It concludes by arguing that the ‘problem’ of selective enforcement in relation to male homosexuality lies not in policing or in ‘police culture’ but in law that allows heteronormative social morality to become translated into police practice.

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