There is now a sizeable literature examining moral panics and moral crusades in various societies, yet the literature is largely centred on the dynamics of panics and the social forces promoting them, while devoting almost no attention to the state. The state may play a key role in the process—either fanning or defusing popular alarm over a problem. In some panics, the state becomes an arena of struggle, or morality politics, between forces that promote and challenge claims regarding some social evil. The process of legislating morality provides a unique opportunity to examine the state as a dynamic actor in its own right. The article examines this in the context of the recent debate over legalizing prostitution in Western Australia.

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