chapter  6
Perceptions of police legitimacy among female sex workers in Sri Lanka
Pages 17

Introduction There is a growing body of research on procedural justice, legitimacy and police-citizen relations (Tyler 2006). A majority of the current literature focuses on the impact of procedural justice on law-abiding citizens for minor infractions and within minority communities. Research in this latter tradition challenges the neutrality of police legitimacy and suggests that race, class and place shape policing patterns, police practices and perceived procedural justice (Britton 1997; Brunson and Miller 2006; Visher 1983). There are at least four ways in which research on this can be usefully expanded: through the investigation of whether and how gender impacts perceived procedural justice, by expanding the scope of scholarly focus beyond minor infractions, by exploring the application of procedural justice in non-Western settings, and by employing qualitative data to understand the nuances of police/citizen interactions. Feminist scholarship suggests that gender shapes social organizations, structures opportunities, and institutionalizes gendered differences and inequalities (Connell 2002). This would include institutionalized gendered practices within criminal justice organizations (Acker 1990; Britton 1997; Herbert 2001) and during police-citizen points of contact (Brunson and Miller 2006; Visher 1983). Given that gender influences police practices, it is necessary to explore how it specifically impacts perceptions of procedural justice and legitimacy (Tyler 2006). While police legitimacy research has generally been examined in the U.S. and other Western nations, it is equally important to investigate whether and how the concept of police legitimacy operates in other settings. This is especially salient if the nation is struggling with endemic corruption and other problems that may impact police behavior and perceptions and expectations of procedural justice (Reisig and Lloyd 2009; Tankebe 2009). In this study, I analyze in-depth interviews with female sex workers in Colombo, Sri Lanka. I examine how gender is navigated during interactions between sex workers and police and how sex workers perceive their interactions with the police in terms of the theory’s four tenets: fairness, respect, trust and participation (Tyler 2006). Focusing on perceptions illuminates insights about face-to-face mechanisms regarding gender that cannot be easily understood

through other types of data. Finally, I investigate if and how the concepts of procedural justice apply in a non-Western context, where the nature of policing and state authority differs, and there is evidence of systemic corruption.