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Sharon Cowan and Rebecca Hewer

In this chapter we focus on the ways in which vulnerability has been operationalised in the criminal justice process, particularly with respect to sex offences. After setting out a brief review of recent conceptual debates about the analytical and political utility of vulnerability as a concept, we show, in three case studies – prostitution policy; vulnerable witnesses in sexual assault trials; the criminalisation of trans men for sexual assault – how different sexual offence contexts give effect to the concept. Through these case studies, we show how the state plays a role in producing vulnerability, even as it attempts to (or purports to) address or alleviate vulnerability, intensifying the vulnerability of some while neglecting the vulnerability of others. Accordingly, although frames of vulnerability seem open to challenge when scrutinised in their operational contexts, we would caution all to remain cognisant of the ‘danger’ posed by vulnerability’s vulnerability to resignification, and attuned to the normative political commitments which invariably play some role in translating our thoughts about vulnerability into practice.