Briefing paper on the review of demand for sexual services from the International Union of Sex Workers

About the IUSW

IUSW response to Tackling Demand for Prostitution Review Aug08

The International Union of Sex Workers is a grassroots organisation, founded by a migrant sex worker, that brings together people from all sectors of the sex industry – people who sell sexual contact or BDSM (bondage & discipline, domination & submission, sado-masochism) services, agency, website and brothel owners, strippers, erotic dancers and models, porn stars and film makers, phone sex workers and clients – men, women and transgender people – straight, gay and bisexual. As such, the IUSW gives voice to current, active sex workers. Our principles and practise are born from our experience, the experience of real people within the sex industry.

We call upon the government to recognise sex workers’ right to be included in any decisions that will affect our freedom to make choices and the safety in which we work, to recognise that criminalisation of our industry creates abusive and damaging environments and alienates the most vulnerable.

The IUSW affiliated to the GMB in 2002, giving sex workers the right to join a trades union. The GMB recognises sex work as work and supports our right to self-organise and fight for better working conditions. We do not ask for rescue or redemption, but demand rights and respect. We see how legal status and social stigma combine to increase our vulnerability and enable abuse and exploitation within our industry. Such wrongs are often then blamed on the nature of our work, sometimes by those who themselves perpetuate them. We call for the social inclusion of sex workers and for all of us to be given equal human, civil and labour rights. The sex industry provides employment and income for thousands, both those who sell sex and those who work as maids, drivers, photographers, cleaners etc.. While the state will take our money in taxes, it does not recognise what we do as labour, nor give us the same protection of the law as others.

“When people deny sex work as labour it forces us to spend our time defending the existence of our work, instead of struggling for its transformation.”
Alice, migrant sex worker, London 2007

Introduction: sex and human rights

A wide range of consensual sexual behaviours have been the subject of state and social persecution; homosexuality, sexual intercourse outside marriage (particularly by women), the sale of sexual services (particularly by women) and masturbation have all been designated as deviant. Persecution and prosecution has failed to eradicate those behaviours, most of which now are seen as essential freedoms for individual choice. Sex workers remain one of the last groups in society to face such persecution.

The sexual behaviour of consenting adults requires no regulation by the state. Yet, in current law, consensual sex work is indistinguishable from coercion, violence, trafficking, exploitation or paedophilia. This oppresses those adults making consensual choices, and endangers those who are not. We must recognise the right to consent to engage in sex work in order to accurately target abuses when and where they occur.

Traditional moral and religious views criticising the sex industry are incompatible with human rights and should have no place in the law.

Recognising sex workers’ rights

The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 23 that “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work”. Trading in sexual services is no different in principle from providing other personal or intimate services such as hairdressing, physiotherapy, tattooing, waxing, or nursing/medical care. Disapproval of the sex industry is based on moral and religious grounds or a misreading of feminist principles that seeks to infantilise and ‘rescue’ female sex workers. None of these objections are superior to the rights of individuals to make free decisions on how to live their lives.

Resolution 1579 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recognises voluntary adult prostitution, and requires that member states formulate policy that avoids double standards that force sex workers underground and make them more vulnerable – instead they should seek to empower them. The resolution explicitly recommends that member states “respect the right of prostitutes … to have a say in any policies … concerning them”.

A human rights-based approach to sex work is the most effective in protecting the vulnerable, preventing, detecting and prosecuting abuses and giving the state a valuable, ethical and appropriate role to play.

Criminalising clients – the worst way forward.

Criminalising clients will not solve the wrongs within the sex industry, but exacerbate them by further marginalising and stigmatising sex workers by driving both clients and workers underground. The Wolfenden report of 1959 explicitly recognised the futility of applying a moral agenda to the sex industry. Does the government now see it as their responsibility to enshrine in law moral judgements about the sexual behaviour of consenting adults?

It is estimated that between 50,000-80,000 females sell sex to around 10% of the adult male population – approximately 2 million clients across the UK. The most visible are street-based, who form a minority of sex workers (estimates range from as low as 3,000 to as high as 22,000) and are disproportionately in contact with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Much media attention is currently focused on trafficked women coerced into the sex industry (again, estimates range from less than 1,000 based on extrapolating Pentameter 1 statistics to as high as 18,000). However, even if the absolute highest estimates of both trafficked and street-working women are accepted, this still constitutes only 50 per cent of female sex workers, and may be as low as five per cent. The vast majority of sex workers are therefore generally invisible to the criminal justice system and the ‘rescue industry’, who often seek to deny our existence as a result of this invisibility, and then dismiss as unreal or unrepresentative those voices which do not conform to their stereotypes. Many sex workers seek this invisibility by choice, not merely due to social stigma (though this affects many, particularly sex workers with children) but because our work by its very nature requires discretion.

One of the arguments for criminalisation of our clients states they are perpetrators of much of the violence against us. However, evidence shows that the majority of robbery, abuse, harassment and physical or sexual violence experienced by sex workers in the course of their work comes from those who do not pay for sex. Many of these assailants make no pretence of being clients, but express hatred of sex workers and appear to feel their actions are legitimated by the social attitudes of abhorrence for commercial sex. Others may approach as if they were clients, but then refuse to pay, commit assaults and robberies, or violently force return of payment after having had sex. Criminalising clients will have no impact upon these perpetrators of abuse and violence who are already committing criminal acts against sex workers.

There are many statutory and non-statutory interventions the government can make which will improve the situation both for the non-problematic majority in the sex industry and the vulnerable minority most in need of aid. Rather than an ineffective and expensive broad brush approach which criminalises ‘indirect’ workers in the sex industry (e.g., all people who run brothels or agencies) and all clients, it is possible to target the minority who coerce and exploit, or who perpetrate violence against sex workers. However, such policies can only be developed and implemented in co-operation with those who work in the sex industry, treating us as full members of society with rights and responsibilities.

Available information from public consultation and surveys indicates public support for changes in the law that will benefit sex workers.

The public are ready for positive change to recognise sex workers’ rights.
Problems created by current law – vulnerability, violence and stigma
Current law increases the likelihood of violence against sex workers: working safely and legally are incompatible. Again, this contravenes PACE 1579: “Member states should refrain from criminalising and penalising prostitutes”. Sex workers face disproportionate levels of violence partly because of stigma and discrimination and partly as a result of a legal system that isolates indoor workers and prevents provision of safe working environments for outdoor workers.

For indoor workers, no safe option is completely legal. Although a woman selling sex in a flat with a maid is not breaking the law herself, it is illegal for two people selling sex to work together, and the maid is at risk of prosecution for “controlling for gain”.

Criminals are aware that the law makes sex workers an easy target – there are many cases of robbery gangs specifically targeting sex worker establishments, as they are likely to have cash on the premises and are unlikely to contact the police for fear of prosecution. The limits on sex workers working together breaches Article 20 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, that “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association”. However, at present the law makes no distinction between agency or brothel owners who offer safe, well-managed and supportive working conditions and those who exploit or abuse. That many brothels and agencies are well-run is to be applauded when they face legal reprisals rather than rewards for good practice. There are cases of brothel or agency owners drawing attention to abuses finding themselves prosecuted and imprisoned as a result, even when police and courts acknowledge they have coerced or mistreated no-one. Legal sanction and the limited police resources available should target those who abuse and exploit sex workers.

Police attitudes to those working in the sex industry, both actual and perceived, contribute to this reluctance to report crimes – only 44 per cent of street-based and 18 per cent of indoor sex workers have reported crimes to the police: sex workers are effectively denied the full protection of the law. This breaches Articles 7 and 21 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights: “All… are entitled… to equal protection of the law” and “Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country”.

Laws that diminish our rights do nothing to protect the most vulnerable within our industry.
It is vulnerability which creates victims, not sex work.

Trafficking and migration

Many migrants – male, female and transgender, legally or illegally resident in the UK – choose to work in the sex industry due to its relatively well-paid and informal nature. They are liable to all the abuses facilitated by British law and are additionally vulnerable due to their immigration status, which often makes them unwilling to seek help from the police or other official sources. The abuse of migrant workers is not peculiar to the sex industry, and the erroneous conflation of ‘trafficking’ and ‘prostitution’ contravenes migrants’ human rights and decreases the safety of both migrant workers and those in the sex industry. The number of people exposed to appalling conditions will only increase if the sex industry is driven further underground, as recognised in PACE 1579: “As a consequence, more often than not, organised crime becomes involved, and prostitutes are made more vulnerable”.

Problems will be worsened if the sex industry is driven further underground.

What the government should do:

Solutions begin with inclusion

Politicians and others have lamented our social exclusion as one more harmful consequence of sex work. However, little can be done to remedy this until it is acknowledged that sex workers themselves, historically marginalised and excluded from the debates around prostitution, have a right to participate in civil society. By refusing to accept that sex workers have something to say and ignoring our voices when we speak, our exclusion is perpetuated and endorsed by government. Sex workers are the experts on our own lives and a real solution to problems associated with the sex industry cannot be found while we go unheeded. There is no more valid group of stakeholders in this debate than sex workers themselves. No consultation can be valid without incorporating the views of people from the industry.

Grass-roots sex workers’ groups offer an opportunity for central and local government to build bridges and work with the sex industry to improve conditions. Sex workers are understandably suspicious of authority which has for so long treated us with either handwringing, hypocrisy or condemnation. There has been no part of the state which has treated sex workers with respect and dignity – with the exception of some sexual health provision – and it will take time to build working relationships.

Social inclusion through decriminalisation began five years ago in New Zealand, which historically and culturally has much in common with the UK, and is working well – despite dire predictions from those who pursue a moral agenda against sex workers.

Currently, support groups working within the sex industry exist on minuscule funding compared to that of the rescue industry, are largely staffed by volunteers and have few resources. The government has the opportunity to demonstrate a real commitment to the inclusion of sex workers by offering rhetorical and practical support to such organisations – the IUSW and the ECP (English Collective Of Prostitutes). The ECP identifies the role of financial need in the choice of many women to enter sex work, and the IUSW recognises that poor conditions, rather than sex work itself, are the primary problem for most in the industry. Through the IUSW sex workers have the opportunity to join the GMB trades union, which has a proud history of fighting for the rights of marginalised and excluded workers, in keeping with Article 23 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights as quoted above, “ (1) Everyone has the right… to free choice of employment… [and furthermore] (4)… to form and to join trade unions.” The labour rights of sex workers and the ability to organise and work free from state harassment as well as exploitation are essential elements in any review of policy that will affect sex workers.

If you support power, you are rewarded. If you fight it, you are punished. It’s as simple as that. It’s not hard to resist for a few years. But to resist every day of your working life is tough.
George Monbiot

Decriminalisation – the first statutory step

Decriminalisation of the sex industry is the first statutory step to improving conditions. It is not the solution to every problem, but with decriminalisation comes scope for more successful, targeted and cost-effective interventions for improving safety and ending exploitation. The futility of repression can be seen in Sweden, the United States, China and Iran to name but a few. In China and Iran the whole mechanism of the state in its most violent form is bent towards the eradication of sex workers and their clients and still the state fails to achieve its ends.

Criminals and abusers do not want decriminalisation as legitimacy reduces exploitable markets. Sex workers are not criminals, but are at present criminalised when they organise for their own safety. Further criminalisation will increase the opportunity for real criminals to develop and organise at the expense of sex workers, clients and the communities of which we are part.

Sex workers and clients are part of the solution, not the problem

Where abuses do occur, there is one simple, effective answer: to treat sex workers and clients as part of the solution, not the problem.

Despite fear of prosecution, there are already many cases of workers in the sex industry informing the authorities of abuses which come to their notice. Including those involved in the industry is the only effective way to deal with areas of concern, and develop trust between police, the public and sex workers. The alternative drives the industry further underground into the hands of criminals who will exploit both sex workers and clients for financial gain.

The vast majority of clients do not want to buy services from those unwilling to provide them. Although clients are demonised by some politicians and the media, some will attempt to alert the authorities to undesirable situations and do what they can to assist those in need despite the paucity of information about the best action to take. In Turkey, 70 per cent of calls made to a hotline established as part of an IOM anti-trafficking project (concerning trafficking for all sectors, not just sex work) were made by sex workers’ clients – compared to two per cent reported by the anti-trafficking Poppy Project in London that campaigns against purchasing sex.

Nothing about us, without us.
Sex workers themselves are the experts on their own lives.

Conclusion: Work with the sex industry, not against it
Sex work and sex workers have survived for centuries and will continue to do so even if the government chooses to extend the repression we endure. Current law offers no incentive for good practice within the sex industry, and results in expensive and ineffective policies that fail to solve either problems specific to this industry or those the sector shares with other areas of society. New restrictive laws would be hard to enforce and would impact most harshly on the poorest and most vulnerable.

As the origin of many political and civil rights organisations, including the Labour Party itself, shows, the way to prevent exploitation is to recognise the human, civil and labour rights of stigmatised and excluded groups. Sex workers have been denied these rights for too long.

We call upon the government to recognise our human and civil rights and end centuries of state persecution.  We call for inclusion and empowerment not criminalisation.

Sex workers’ rights advocates want all adults to have the freedom to choose to have sex when, why and with whom they wish, and the absolute right to say no.

Your freedom and mine cannot be separated.
Nelson Mandela

Diverging feminist perspectives

Although there is no feminist consensus on sex work, one of the most vociferous arguments against sex work and sex workers is claimed as a feminist viewpoint, and often the feminist viewpoint: the statement that selling sex cannot be freely chosen, and that buying sex is violence by men against women. From these axioms, it is then deduced that the sex industry should, and could, be abolished. Criminalisation of clients is seen as an essential and effective step towards this ultimate goal.

Amongst other things, this simplistic argument ignores the entire span of human history, vast quantities of academic research and the voices of sex workers themselves.

The truth shall set you free, but first it will piss you off. Gloria Steinem

The most cursory examination of the sex industry reveals a significant number of male and transgender service providers selling sex to men, and a smaller but still extant number of female clients who purchase sexual services from men and women. However, proponents of “sex work is violence” dismiss these phenomena – these people – as irrelevant, since acknowledging their existence completely rebuts the argument of sex work as male violence.  (Resolution 1579 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recognises this diversity of providers and purchasers of sexual services: “the commercial sex industry is not as “gendered” as is suggested by the former UN Special Rapporteur. Not all prostitutes are female – so how can prostitution be a violation of women’s rights?”) They also ignore the inconvenient existence of disabled clients – people with a wide range of disabilities purchase sexual services. To describe all commercial sex as violence is to represent some clients who may have no independent movement as perpetrators of violence.

Language used by abolitionists is crude and emotive, speaking of women being “bought”, as if selling sex were a unilateral and irreversible surrendering of self: heterosexual sex is conceptualised as something that men do to women. In reality, male clients do not “buy” women: they receive specific services for a fee, sometimes within as brief a timescale as ten minutes. Much emphasis is placed by abolitionists on heteronormative penetration: in reality, a vast range of sexual services do not involve a penis in a vagina, such as masturbation, fellatio and cunnilingus, massage, anal penetration of men by women, domination services and many many more.

What do people mean when they speak disparagingly of “a whore”? Someone who sells her or his body? I have news for you: Unless you’re a ghost who still draws a paycheck, you use your body to make a living, too. Ever been nice to a customer you really didn’t like, or acted enthusiastic about something you really didn’t care about, just because you were getting paid? Congratulations, you’re a whore, too. You’re just not getting paid as much as I am.
Mistress Matisse, The Whore on Christmas: The Ups and Downs of Being a Sex Worker During the Holidays

As our professional practice is caricatured, so too are sex workers ourselves. Abolitionist arguments infantilise women by implying that they are mentally inadequate and are incapable of making their own rational decisions about their chosen work. Sex between consenting adults is not violence and it is foolish and dangerous to treat it as such. If certain women are held to be incapable of agreeing to certain kinds of sexual activity – indeed if certain motivations are considered to invalidate a woman’s right to accept sexual activity, then women’s right to say no will be equally undermined. In reality, many women in the sex industry are intelligent and educated individuals making independent choices with an awareness of the way in which doing so sets them outside society. Bizarrely, for a line of reasoning that posits itself as feminist, this argument diminishes women’s rights over their own bodies by decrying the right of female sex workers to say “yes” to sexual activity.

To quote Don Kulick “These [abolitionist] understandings see individual sexual acts as microenactments of social hierarchies, and argue that social change both reflects and depends on changes in each individual’s sexual behavior. This view highlights the symbolic and structural aspects of prostitution. It claims that single acts of prostitution are degrading to all women, and that the existence of prostitution promotes the view that all women can be bought.” However, if paying a woman to perform a sexual act (or the idea that some man somewhere is paying a woman to perform a sexual act) causes (some) men to think that all women can be bought, the feminist solution is surely to correct their misapprehension, not to concede the argument and prohibit the sale of sexual services.

Even if the purchase of sex itself is not represented as an inherently violent act, some feminists argue for the criminalisation of our clients as the perpetrators of much of the violence against us. However, most assaults on sex workers are by those who do not pay for sex. Many attackers express hatred of sex workers and seem to feel their actions are legitimated by society’s view of commercial sex. Others approach as if they were clients, but then refuse to pay, commit assaults and robberies, or violently force return of payment after having had sex. Criminalising clients will have no impact upon these perpetrators of abuse and violence. Targeting those who commit actual, rather than assumed, abuses against sex workers should be prioritised if concern for sex workers’ well-being is sincere.

If a specific female behaviour is seen as “provoking” male violence, the answer is not to restrict women’s freedom or to disrespect their choices – patriarchy’s remedy for centuries – but to eradicate male violence, whether it takes the form of domestic abuse within marriage or attacks on sex workers legitimised by their socially marginalised status.

However, rather than argue that men should desist from violent behaviour, many who claim “prostitution is violence” maintain that their feminism is best expressed by the exclusion of sex workers and those who support sex workers’ rights from the debate. Virginia Woolf said “A feminist is any woman who tells the truth about her life.” Yet some who call themselves feminists feel they are entitled to choose who will be heard, whose truth will be allowed.

No person is your friend who demands your silence.       Alice Walker

The strategy of exclusion reached its nadir in Sweden during consultations on the prospect of criminalising paying for sex – sex workers were purposely excluded from this process. Ignoring women’s right to decide for themselves breaches Article 1 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “all human beings are endowed with reason and conscience”, article 6 “everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law”, article 7 “all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law” and article 23 “everyone has the right … to free choice of employment”. Arguing that sex workers should be excluded from the debate contravenes article 7 “all are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination” and article 21 “(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country…”

To suppress free speech in the name of protecting women is dangerous and wrong.                  Betty Friedan

Don Kulick comments on the process of the Swedish law: “Although [many feminist organisations] supported the move to criminalize only the clients of prostitutes – on the grounds that prostitutes themselves are oppressed victims – when they were confronted with the possibility that the law might drive sex work underground and make sex workers more vulnerable to exploitation by profiteers, representatives consistently responded that the purpose of the law was first and foremost to ‘mark a stance’ or ‘send a message’ that ‘society’ did not accept prostitution; hence, the impact of the law on prostitutes was not their primary concern …The truly surprising thing is not that the law impacts extremely negatively on street prostitutes. The truly surprising thing is that those politicians and feminist groups that promote the so-called ”Swedish Model” so resolutely ignore these negative consequences in their continual insistence that the law is good. We may grant that the law may indeed feel good for those who are only interested in ‘marking a stance’ and ‘sending a message’ that they don’t like prostitution. But for those involved in sex work, the law prohibiting the purchase of sexual services is a disastrous throwback to an era of violence, exploitation, persecution and police harassment that many of us thought could never be possible in a country that is supposedly so enlightened and progressive as Sweden.”

The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.   JS Mill

Selling sex does not render a woman’s description of her own experience invalid, to be set aside in favour of those who know better what will protect her; “for her own good” is rarely an attitude which has truly benefited women. Silencing and mistreating women on the basis of their sexual behaviour is simple discrimination and has a long ignoble history: unmarried mothers have been incarcerated for immorality, lesbians diagnosed as mentally unstable, women who masturbate subjected to medical procedures – punishments with the benign intention of protecting women from themselves and schooling them to realise they would be happier and better treated if they would only conform to socially acceptable norms of feminine behaviour.

However, there are many feminists, and feminist sex workers, who believe that women should be treated equally to men and given equal freedom to choose what they do with their bodies. There are many male clients who – despite the conditioning of masculinity and the vehement hostility, contempt and dismissive pity that characterises social attitudes to women who sell sex – treat the women they pay for pleasure with far more respect than do abolitionist feminists.

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.  C. S. Lewis

Silenced Voices, Diverse Realities.

Ruby, 38, London, 3 years’ experience in the sex industry

Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I’m an educated woman, with a professional background in teaching, I’ve worked in education for many years. I’ve been in the sex industry for just over three years, and it’s been positive, my experience. I work for somebody I trust, a woman, and I’ve not had any negative experiences, apart from when I was outed in a Sunday newspaper. That was my only negative experience. I’ve found it empowering and I’ve met some great people in the industry.

How did you come to work in the sex industry, what have your experiences been?
I was curious about the sex industry and after reading some articles and a couple of books written by sex workers, I decided to give it a go. I saw an ad in a free magazine and I went along to the interview and was photographed and I found the whole experience empowering – I was treated with respect and I felt at ease.

What is your experience of clients – what are the highs and lows?
I have never had a negative experience with a client. I clearly state via my agency what I’ll do/won’t do and my limits are respected.
I’ve had many non-sex jobs where I felt exploited, under-paid and under-valued, but I’ve never felt this way in the sex industry. I choose my hours, I’ve met some great people and I’ve had some great sex and the great pay is an added bonus. If people don’t like what I do, that’s fine by me but I live my life as I choose and the government’s ridiculous moralising policies will not deter me.

How does the law affect your ability to work safely and freely?
My outing in a Sunday rag resulted in me being instantly suspended from my day job and then investigated by the Department of Education. After months of waiting, they found in my favour and I was able to work with young people again. I feel I was treated like a paedophile, a criminal, yet I did nothing illegal and certainly did not involve anybody in my charge and/or discuss my private activities with them.

Sex workers like other workers are required to pay taxes yet are treated like criminals and have their privacy invaded as I did. I had lies attributed to me by the so-called journalist and I also suffered the indignity of having a less-than-flattering photo of myself plastered in the rag – where is my right to privacy? My security was compromised and I did not leave my home for three days and I needed psychological counselling as a result. My doctor referred to me to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation. I felt suicidal. I still have not returned to a place of London I love as I fear for my security as I used to work at an educational establishment in the area. It saddens and distresses me that my freedom of movement has been compromised.

As I mentioned, sex workers are required to pay taxes but are routinely fired from jobs and seen as fair game to be publicly humiliated in the press. The State didn’t protect me and although this happened over two years ago, I still feel the effects and feel the injustice of what has happened to me and others in my position since then. We are all supposed to have a right to privacy – where was my right to privacy respected? The so-called journalist reported lie after lie, distorted my words and nothing has been done about it.

What would you like the government to do?
The government’s proposals will not affect me as I’ll continue doing what I do regardless.
I wish the government would stop moralising and concentrate on sorting the economy out. If adults wish to freely sell sex and adults wish to purchase it, where is the problem?

Is there anything else you’d like to be heard?
I am not a victim and nor are the women I’ve met in the business – they are assertive women who work in the sex industry out of choice. They are empowered women who live the lives they choose. I don’t deny that there are women who sell sex due to addictions/debts etc but I haven’t met such women in the escorting sector, I imagine that the latter is common in the dangerous street walking sector.

Sabrina, 41, Edinburgh, 10 years’ experience in the sex industry

Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I am a 41-year-old mother, married, I was born and raised in Brazil. I immigrated into the UK in 1997. I have been married three times. I have a daughter 19 years old and a daughter 10 years old. I consider myself pretty normal and happy.

How did you come to work in the sex industry, what have your experiences been?
I have been work as an escort for about 10 years. That was my own choice. I was looking for a well-paid job, where I should become my own boss. So I started work for a lady and after six months I move on and set up my own flat where I was trading by myself.
I love my job. Sometimes people don’t understand any job can be good if you are able to enjoy what you do. It’s not just about sex but is about leaning what people need and what they want. I believe I am very lucky in a sense, I have learned a lot in meeting with strangers that almost now become regular friends.

How does the law affect your ability to work safely and freely?
I think they are all hypocrites. The same guys wrote the law, probably have been visiting an escort in some time of their lives. I think the law could be busy looking after real criminals, sex workers show their selves in local paper and internet, we aren’t hiding, we are an easy target, anybody can find us. But can the law find and sort out the real crimes around the world? A question to USA where prostitution is illegal – where is Bin Laden??

The law don’t affect me directly because I believe in free will. If I want to sell my own body that is up to me. It is bad enough to have the government tell you when can be smoking or drinking when they make millions on tax. Now they also want tell you when you can be horny?? I can see nothing wrong with it, I am not breaking any law but a fake hypocritical human law. Jesus Christ say in the Bible …………he who throw the first stone?

What is your experience of clients – what are the highs and lows?

I have meet nice people around the world. They are pretty normal, sometimes kinky, sometimes just need a little TLC, but most of everything they are men and don’t forget are humans, with their own necessities and desires.

What would you like the government to do?

They should understand it’s the oldest profession in the world, and is not matter what they say about legal or illegal. People still will trade, it’s a man’s necessities. I believe if was not for sex workers, we would have lots more rapes and paedophile problems. Or maybe would be a good idea just to castrate every single man, then they will not need to come to us for a relief??

Is there anything else you’d like to be heard?
Yes! Religion is the most worse thing in all world, it brings war, fears, deaths and disgrace. They always want tell you what is right and wrong. But they haven’t looked at themselves on their bedroom mirror.

Paul, 26, London, 6 years’ experience in the sex industry

Can you tell me a little about yourself?
My name is Paul. I’m 26, originally from France and I’ve been working in the sex industry for six years.

How did you come to work in the sex industry, what have your experiences been?
I was travelling around Europe with very little money and I realised it was a way of making money – in the train stations, things like this. Basically I was broke in Italy, and some rich foreigner, he gave me 20 euros, and I though, hey, ok.

So I did that in bars in France and Switzerland and Belgium then when I moved to England I did it more professionally, though a gay magazine. I also qualified as a massage therapist so I’m providing massage, erotic massage, sex and domination, BDSM. I also did some porn.

My experiences have been very good overall, especially in the UK where it’s legal and clients feel less shame. I would say in France there’s always this atmosphere where it’s illegal and underground and it’s less easy to talk with clients because they’re more ashamed.

How does the law affect your ability to work safely and freely?
For now, it doesn’t. I’ve had one bad experience with a client who threatened me with being violent, and I said if he did anything I’d call the cops, and that really shut him down. But I know people who would like to work together in a co-operative where we could share expenses and incomes, but they won’t do that because of the law. Because it’s a legal grey area, it’s difficult to find support and meet other people.

What is your experience of clients – what are the highs and lows?
My experience of clients overall is very good, I do have really good feedback from clients. Like I had a guy first thing yesterday, and he was saying, “I’ve never felt anything like this before.” I had this married guy, in his 50s, still dealing with his homosexuality, who told me that I made him realise his sexuality was a gift not a curse.

I feel like I’m really sexually liberated, and lots of my clients have sexual issues, like they have sexual frustration, repressed homosexuality, body image issues, repressed fantasies, age, loneliness, and I help them with that. Because they see how sex can be, that it can be guilt free and shameless and something you feel good about, and just something simple, because people get so anxious and wound up about sex, it can change their whole experience of themselves, their whole life, even.

What would you like the government to do?
The government should recognise sex work exists and will always exist and embrace it. The government should work with sex workers to give sex work legal recognition. Access to sexuality is a basic human need and some people do need sex workers. The government should be involved in providing sexual services to people in need – disabled, people in prison. We should not be criminalised and we should be allowed to work together.

The state needs to be helping victims of trafficking but not using that as an argument for deporting people or criminalising sex workers.

Is there anything else you’d like to be heard?
It feels like the attitude towards sex work is still really conditioned and influenced by the attitude of society towards sex which is still really conservative. I’d really like to work with other people but at present the law makes this almost impossible. Even if sometimes it’s just a job – and it can be annoying like any job – it’s true I’m really passionate about my work, it’s hands-on sexual healing.

Michael, 49, London, 4 years’ experience in the sex industry

Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I’m 49 years old – born in the UK.

How did you come to work in the sex industry, what have your experiences been?
In the six months before I came out as a gay man in October 2004, guys at saunas kept telling me that I could earn money as a male escort. I came out in October then by December 2004 I was escorting part-time – while I still had another day job as a railway engineer – then when my services ‘were no longer required’ at the railway in April 2006 I became a full-time male escort by default.
The crowning glory was to be awarded Male Escort Of The Year in the Erotic Awards.
As to my experiences? – I would state without exaggeration that out of the hundreds and hundreds of clients that I have had over the years, only about three have not been respectful. That is all I seek from clients – mutual respect.

How does the law affect your ability to work safely and freely?

At present the law does not affect my ability to work – however if legislation is brought in which would criminalize clients wishing to pay for sex, it would have a devastating effect, and would merely drive my work underground.

What is your experience of clients – what are the highs and lows?
Generally I have wonderful clients – I meet such interesting people – and as I openly offer my services to any clients with disabilities it makes my job even more interesting.

What would you like the government to do?
Not to criminalize clients paying for the service of any sex worker and to decriminalise brothels – that MUST include female, male and transgender sex workers!! – legislate to provide a way for disabled clients to seek the pleasure of escorts via a doctor or the NHS – I understand this is the case in Holland – and to have a national database where all sex workers could add details about bad clients.  The New Zealand model seems like a good place to start.

Is there anything else you’d like to be heard?
Only that I love my job – there is no other career that I would wish to pursue – and regarding the current argument that sex workers are exploited – well excuse me!! – winning Male Escort Of The Year in the Erotic Awards – does that represent exploitation?!
The voice of male and transgender sex workers needs to be heard and LISTENED to by the government during the current debate – the whole debate does not seem to acknowledge that we even exist and that there is a SIGNIFICANT difference. The vast majority of male and transgender sex workers work indepently – this is a major difference to female sex workers – this should send a very strong message to the government that the likelihood of exploitation is less likely if a sex worker works independently.

Cameron, 24, Newcastle, 5 years’ experience in the sex industry

Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I’m 24 and I live in Newcastle. I was nervous for the first year [I worked] but it made me feel wanted inside. The clients were not sleazy. I adapted in my own way – everyone has their own way of dealing with things. Money was not an issue any more and I found working fun. The agency owner taught me how to present myself more appropriately. I think this job has made me respect myself. I enjoy it a lot and I’m young and having so much fun.

I carried on with education, stayed on through university, and realised I couldn’t have a normal job having got used to being able to pay the bills – I could have my own life – I do actually enjoy it – doesn’t feel dirty or slutty but you do need a strong head on your shoulders to do a job like this.

How did you come to work in the sex industry, what have your experiences been?
Basically when I got into this work I was a student at the time, sitting with my friends looking through the papers and saw a series on TV. I thought an escort was basically someone who went to a hotel to accompany a businessman. I called an agency and they explained it would involve full sex which did startle me. But I thought I’d give it a go. I was 19 and desperate for money.

What is your experience of clients – what are the highs and lows?
In all the five years I’ve worked I’ve never had a bad experience with a client. I feel safe working with johns, feel comfortable with the job and it’s something I really enjoy doing.  I’ve been seeing the same clients for five years.

Actually I have had just one bad experience in the whole five years. He was rough, I think he was on drugs. He paid by credit card and we realised it was a forged credit card. I told him what-for, that if he touched me like that again he’d be out, and he toned it down. He was just really rough, I said “I’ll tell you once, but if you do it again you’re out”. I said, “You’ll have to get out now, if you’re not out of here on a count of three, I’m calling the police.” He said, “I’ll get you done, I’ll get you done,” and I said, “I think the police’ll be more on my side than on yours.”

I’ve had to clean some guy’s flat before – with the feather duster and the fishnet tights. I don’t feel like it’s prostitution. I’m not selling my body, I’m doing my job and I enjoy doing it, and I can get my coursework done.


How does the law affect your ability to work safely and freely?

I was in complete shock hearing about the likelihood of criminalisation of the adult industry – it’s such a complete shock. I’m close friends with an agency owner. She’s like a mother figure to the other girls, I don’t think they realise they could be out of work in six months.

That would tear me up as I really do enjoy it. Pardon my French but it’s a load of shit.  We’re not doing anything wrong, we’re not doing harm to anyone.

Rather than criminalising they should investigate standards of work. I’m not doing harm to anyone, the neighbours don’t have a clue, I’m very discreet. I do have a partner at the moment, it’s been four years, and he doesn’t have a problem with what I do.

I read stories about trafficking etc but that’s got nothing to do with us, we’re just trying to run a business. They should investigate standards. It’s bang out of order [criminalization]. The way I’ve read it – it’s got nothing to do with us.

What the hell do you [the government] think you’re playing at? You feel like banging all their heads together – they don’t have a clue what’s going on. We’re providing a good service. All my clients are respectable men, they don’t think they’re doing anything wrong, they’re just having a little moment with someone, not having an affair – it’s their time, we’re keeping their marriages together – they just want a little break from their own life, a little boost.

We could be bankrupt in six months.

What would you like the government to do?
If they’re going to change the law they should offer the girls support instead of criminalising, “Please be safe.”
Visits from GUM clinic nurses have helped a lot – they’re expert on how to do the job, how to keep clean and work healthily – everyone should have the chance of that. The other girls didn’t know they had to go to GUM clinic, I had to tell them about it.

Is there anything else you’d like to be heard?
This work has given me more confidence, I’m in control of my own life. I don’t work for the agency owner, they work for me.

I love the challenge of the day. Your regular clients are a bonus, they just want the experience they’re not getting at home. The girls that do work have an education, they’re trying to get somewhere in life, they not just being slappers. They [the government] see us all as little slappers who work on the streets but it has changed my attitude, working, it’s made me feel more intellectual. I’ve learnt communications skills, I’ve met such a variety of people.

The joy of going out wearing a suit, going to nice hotels, and having nice meals… I’ve learnt so much from meeting so many different people. I feel I’m more mature than, way ahead of, other 25-year-olds because of the experience I’ve had. When someone says I’m a prostitute, I’m a whore, that really offends me, I’m a sex worker. It took me a lot of years to adapt to it, you have to have people skills, you can’t be shy, you’ve got to be on the ball.

To keep a good clientele you’ve got to make every appointment special, whether you’re knackered, whether you’ve got a bad head or whatever. It’s made me really efficient as well, this job, because I’m always on the go.

I’m not into drugs. I’ve respected the money, it’s money worked hard for. When I was 19 I could make about £6000 a month. You’ve got to keep your clientele – it’s not enough just to be young and beautiful.

All the agencies should just chip in, let the girls talk to each other, announce something to say “We’re going to help you.” It’s going to happen when they change the law anyway, so they’re just making it more difficult for themselves. I think [the owner] finds himself in a difficult position because of running the agency, doesn’t want to impose on the girls.

On a forum I made contact with other people who work for the same agency and can see they’re dealing with the same issues. It built up my confidence too, as does having regular clients – I realise they want you for more than just sex.

We have a lot of genuine clients, it would be a shame to lose them, they think of it the same way we do, it’s just a bit of time. They tell us everything, there’s so much trust.

It’s not the way everybody thinks it is. I’ve got a lot more respect in this job than I have in any other.

Georgina, 51, London, 19 years’ experience in the sex industry

Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I’m 51 this year and I have a 21 year old son, I’m a single parent, though he’s in touch with his dad. I live in London, I’ve got a fine arts degree I got three years ago. I’ve got a lot of history with the sex industry; I’ve done a lot of different things in my life, but most of them have been focused around sex. I started 19 years ago.

How did you come to work in the sex industry, what have your experiences been?
I was living in Bristol, and I’d always had sexual fantasies about it.  My 16 year old niece had disappeared from home (though we found out later her dad knew where she was) and I was given a number and told to call it. I called that number and discovered she was working as an escort, and I came to London and started working for the same agency. I ended up actually running the agency during the day, then starting my own agency, and taking the best jobs. I was making more than £1000 per night.

But after a couple of years, I felt like every day I was recovering from the night before – there were a lot of drugs around. Lots of drugs. But I also went on holiday to America, things like that, things I’d never have had a chance to do without this.

So after a couple of years I started as a dominatrix. I didn’t want to shag everyone – some people I wanted to, some people I really didn’t want to. And I got attacked, by a client. He didn’t hurt me, just picked me up off the floor with his arms around me – I said “What are you doing, what are you doing, put me down!” and he dropped me. I said “If you hurt me I will call the police”, and I just grabbed my clothes and ran out of there, naked, got dressed in the hotel lift; they were really nice to me, but they said “You really shouldn’t be doing this.” They were nice to me but judgemental.

And I thought if I’m a dominatrix, I can tie their hands behind their backs! They can’t hurt me.

But I realised I was living my life for other people’s pleasure. I was making a lot of money, huge amounts of money, but I wouldn’t be a slave to money [any more].

So I gave it up. It was hard, same as when I gave up the fetish scene, I felt as if my life was eaten up by it. But I never miss it.

How did the law affect your ability to work safely and freely?
I don’t think the law was something I would be concerned about it – I didn’t give a toss that prostitution or soliciting was considered illegal. I think the law does protect you to some extent. I live my life by my laws, staying within legal law as much as possible, but when it doesn’t match mine I go ahead anyway, I’m very strong-willed. But if you’re not strong-willed, you’ll get preyed on.

What is your experience of clients – what are the highs and lows?
If they were really disgusting, I wouldn’t shag them. End of. But generally they were lovely, mid-30s, they’d lay on champagne, candles, it would be really great. But I’ve not stayed friends with anyone – it was work. I’ve known working girls take people to the cleaners – get houses, masses of money, but I won’t sell myself to that extent. I’d rent myself for money, not sell myself out.

What would you like the government to do?
If it is going to go on – and prostitution will go on, no matter what laws they bring in, girls will supply what they customer wants, there were times it would have been punished by death and people still were doing it – I think they should decriminalise it, recognise it. Stop sticking their heads in the sand and trying to make it go away. I’d think all this whether I actually had experience or not.

Is there anything else you’d like to be heard?
I will just add that during all that time I was running agencies, and I met hundreds of girls, I only met two who had a guy who sat outside in a car all the time, what you might call a pimp. I met hundreds and hundreds of strong, independent women. But the girls are frightened of the police, they don’t realise the police are there for them. The system’s heavily biased against working girls.

Douglas, 45, Newcastle, 10 years’ experience in the sex industry

Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I’m originally a fashion designer from the North East of England.  Most of my sex work is with disabled and/or elderly clients. I stopped working or at least advertising as a sex worker last Christmas to work more in political groups. I run another design business and now have the time to do more charitable work.

How did you come to work in the sex industry, what have your experiences been?
I started in business as a sex worker about ten years ago to work as a gay male escort, with my partner’s full support. When I very first started I was running an escort agency for a dominatrix friend. It was she who suggested that I try being a sex worker. I decided to give it a go partly on her encouragement and partly out of curiosity. After about two years I decided that I enjoyed the sex work more than running the business, and also I really wanted to continue designing, so eventually my partner took over the agency business so that I could devote myself to sex work full time and designing now part time.

What is your experience of clients – what are the highs and lows?
My experiences have been overwhelmingly good; I’ve never had a truly bad experience. I have not always got on with all my clients and a couple I would not see again but that was more because of personality clashes or hygiene rather than that the experiences were negative.
The majority of my clients tended to be elderly or disabled. I enjoyed working particularly with those clients.  The only bad experience I ever had with sex was not as a sex worker but was with a one night stand. My clients were really appreciative of the services I provided. I worked always as an independent escort or through my partner’s agency.  No problems at all.

How does the law affect your ability to work safely and freely?

The law mainly affects the agency. We were arrested twice. Once for living off immoral earnings and the next time for controlling prostitutes. The first time we were acquitted and the second case was dropped for lack of evidence. The law hinders running a business safely on a number of levels, for example, when trying to run a business that provides security for escorts you put yourself at risk because running an agency in itself now is technically illegal as is running a brothel, yet both are safe places for sex workers. Advertising and being open about your work puts you at risk of drawing the attention of the police. The public and traders as well as sex workers on your books know that what you are doing is risky and this lays you open to both abuse and blackmail. As well as the threat of being raided by the police and potentially going to jail and losing your home, the illegal nature of your business lays you open to petty little things. Taxi drivers feel they can threaten you or intimidate the girls/boys you represent. Traders feel they can threaten you with going to the police and making stories up if you complain about bad services. Advertisers charge you premium rates and then feel they can chop and change or even ignore your adverts for which you are paying a fortune because they know that you cannot complain.

Wanting to protect your escorts and offer them good facilities and encouraging unionisation for example is pointless because it will make no difference if you are done for controlling prostitutes. It is long hours but you are given no respect for the long and unsociable hours you work. Everything around your job is risky. If you have a text telling a girl about an appointment and what time she has to be there then you can be convicted on controlling even though you are doing the job she is paying you for.

You have no security regarding the escorts who want you to do things for them but have no commitment to you. This said, many of the escorts we represent have been with us for seven years or more.  We want to offer them private health cover, child cover and good apartments to work from but we can’t because of the illegal nature of the business we run, even though everyone we represent and everyone who uses our services are adults and happy.

We cannot go to banks and open accounts honestly or get overdrafts or loans because of the business. We pay our taxes but get little in return which is unfair. We take [payment by] credit card but have to do this in an underhand way because of our business and yet half our business is by card and the bank, even though it knows the services we are involved in, is also very happy to exploit us not least because it charges us premium rates for the facility. How can we complain? Everyone uses us because we have no protection under the law. Yet we make sure everyone is safe and no one is coerced or trafficked or underage. It makes no difference.
We are seen as cash-rich and open for exploitation by everyone and if anything goes wrong or an escort complains it is always us who are the villains. There is no justice or fairness. We have lost thousands [of pounds] because of escorts leaving and not paying their agency fees but we can do nothing to get our money back. We are presented by the media as the abusers and yet I think we are the ones who are abused by everyone simply because the law will not protect us and everyone knows this.

What is your experience of clients – what are the highs and lows?
In ten years we have had thousands of clients. Most are really nice. They cover the whole spectrum of society from businessmen to couples, disabled, lonely, married men with issues at home. There is no type; no stereotype if that makes sense, just as there is no stereotype with the escorts. All sorts of people and from all walks of life.

The lowest point was when one girl was raped. This has only happened twice in ten years. The first case the girl with our help went to court but the defence argued that she had only brought the case because she was a prostitute and had not been paid. He got off. The police were furious because they knew he had done this before. The second time the girl refused to go to the police because she said they would use the fact that she was a prostitute against her. It makes us all angry that this is how we can be treated by the legal system.

Lots of clients become friends and use the agency regularly for years. Most are really nice.

What would you like the government to do?
Stop persecuting us. It is simple. We pay our taxes and provide a service for both the clients and the escorts. No-one is forced or coerced. Escorts ring every day wanting us to represent them. It’s a hard business because it is long hours and unsociable hours. We employ people who are also tax payers and who also enjoy their jobs so why are we being targeted?

I would like the government to allow us to run as any other business can. Without fear and with the same facilities as any other business, such as access to full banking facilities. I would like the owners of agencies to be vetted so that those who have criminal records for violence or tax evasion are not allowed to own businesses. Otherwise just please recognise our contribution and talk to us. We are not criminals, just business people who enjoy our work. I am a sex worker and would not ask any sex worker to do anything that I would not do. Most agency owners are ex-sex workers or have partners who work in the business. We are employees of the escorts. We do not control them. It is common sense really to involve us and not to exclude us and portray us as villains when we are not.

Is there anything else you’d like to be heard?
I have been around for ten years. I’ve had lots of good times and we have also faced prosecution which was frightening. It has made us more determined not to be frightened into giving our business up. We know our business and it hurts when people in government and the media say stupid things which are not true. In ten years I have not met a trafficked victim and yet that is all you ever hear on the news. We have escorts who have worked through us for seven years. They are successful business people. Why then are we all portrayed as victims of abuse? It is rubbish.

Julie, 21, London, 2 years’ experience in the sex industry

Can you tell me a little about yourself?
My name is Julie, I’m 21 years old. I’ve recently graduated from a high-profile university and am currently looking for a new full-time job. I’ve been in London for three years, am a native English speaker, and was born in the United States.

How did you come to work in the sex industry, what have your experiences been?
Looking back, it’s hard to pinpoint the reason I started working in the sex industry. I had been thinking about getting a part-time job while at university in my second year. It wasn’t necessary but it would allow me more freedom than the student budget I was on. While searching for a job, I happened to start reading a book by a former call girl. I can remember thinking about prostitution as early back as 16 but reading the book made it seem like a realistic possibility. Without knowing anybody who worked in real life, I started advertising online – before I knew it, I was in business!

I’ve had such a variety of experiences, some neutral, some that I wouldn’t want to repeat, and some that I wouldn’t trade for anything. It’s a constant adventure and excitement, the pay is rewarding, and I find the job extremely fulfilling. I kept up some student part-time work at the same time for a while to ‘keep up appearances’ but soon quit when I realized how much more my personal strengths and talents (emotionally, mentally, and physically) were being rewarded in the sex industry by comparison.

How does the law affect your ability to work safely and freely?
Because I work independently, doing outcalls only (visiting clients at their homes/hotels), I’m lucky not to have the worries many other working girls do in regards to legality. But the law is a constant reminder of society’s attitude towards what I’m doing. And it scares me to think that (god forbid) should I ever end up in a situation where my personal safety is threatened, I couldn’t feel confident that the authorities would treat me in the same way they’d treat any other citizen who had been threatened or attacked – simply because of the work I do.

What is your experience of clients – what are the highs and lows?
Experiences with clients vary greatly, but the lows are only relative lows. Sometimes you find yourself counting the minutes till you’re out of there, or really not enjoying the person’s company (as I’d imagine happens to many service workers in a variety of industries when they have a client they don’t particularly like). But I’ve also had amazing experiences – being whisked away by a client, being treated like a princess, being constantly complimented and appreciated for who I am, meeting some really great people – many of whom continue to keep in touch and help me out with things even when we aren’t meeting for business appointments. Some clients are like old friends that you look forward to seeing and catching up with, like revisiting an old fling. The ‘low points’ in my personal experience are just the clients you don’t really connect with or whom aren’t looking for any real connection – and so you do the labor you’re being paid to do and you get out of there, cash in hand. It’s like any other job.

What would you like the government to do?
I would like the government to introduce policies that will make it safer for all sex workers.  This means decriminalisation. Beyond even changing the law, this sets the precedent for legitimization. In my experience, the only real negatives of my job are due to the stigma behind it. The only part of working that ‘fucks with my head’ (so to speak) is the need to stay ‘in the closet’, to keep it a secret from everyone, living with the fear of being ‘found out’.  Discretion is always going to be a key component of any successful sex worker’s life, but living in fear need not be.

Is there anything else you’d like to be heard?
I find it really frustrating how many voices are out there supposedly speaking on behalf of sex workers – why can’t we speak for ourselves? It’s incredible the way statistics are constantly quoted in regards to the sex industry when it’s clear to any sociologist who has attempted it’s study that there is no way to produce anything near a ‘random sample’ of sex workers – therefore most ‘statistics’ with regard to prostitutes are absolutely meaningless.

Sociologists have been able to estimate that 90% of sex workers work indoors and yet the vast majority of statistics out there are related to girls on the street – even more disturbingly, sometimes exclusively from police records. Generalizing statistics from police records to the entirety of any other working population would sound ludicrous – but somehow it’s OK when it comes to sex work.

Finally, the claim that ‘no-one chooses to become a prostitute’ is one that was even taught to me in a sociology class at university. I did choose to become a prostitute – and I know I’m not the only working girl who started working out of choice and with agency. Just imagine how many of us there could be, unable to stand up and protest a blatant falsity due to the extreme, often life-destroying, social stigma and prejudice that would follow. We need to hear more sex workers’ voices, and stop stigmatizing what is, in reality, just another job.

Recommendations for change

Legislative recommendations

The decriminalisation of sex work and recognition of sex work as labour are the essential first steps towards the social inclusion of people in the sex industry and enabling society to tackle abuses of or by sex workers, to distinguish good practice from bad.

Other beneficial statutory change would be anti-discrimination legislation, removal of the term “common prostitute” from statute and the exclusion of sex work related convictions (e.g., for soliciting) or information from the police re sex working from the requirement of disclosure when applying for jobs. There are many cases of women consistently being refused employment – or even interviews for jobs – when they declare convictions, but being offered work when those convictions are concealed. This legislation would play a significant and effective part in enabling those who wish to move on from the sex industry to do so.

Policy recommendations

Decriminalisation alone is not enough to create a Britain in which sex workers are treated as full and equal members of society, and even without change to current legislation, there is much that can be done without changing the law that would have enormous beneficial effect.

Much of this change involves the way in which sex work is policed. While certain aspects of sex work remain criminalised, the criminal justice system will overwhelmingly continue to be the main interface between society as a whole and the sex industry, and the police are the inevitable first point of this contact. Many police forces have done much to develop good practice within the confines of the law, taking violence against sex workers seriously and doing what they can to target exploitation and coercion within the industry, despite a legislative framework that makes no distinction between those who exploit and abuse and those who offer good, fair and honest working conditions.

Even within the current challenging and restrictive context some areas in the UK are making great efforts to prevent violence against sex workers and ensure that when there are crimes committed against sex workers these are investigated and taken before the courts.

Recommendations for police, criminal justice system and support services
·       Invest in a comprehensive national Ugly Mugs scheme linked to local schemes run by local sex work support projects to enable sex workers to share information about violent clients
·       Create an independent hotline for reporting of crimes against sex workers (similar to the forced marriage hotline) or adequately develop the Crimestoppers phoneline – staff must be fully trained to deal with these calls, information must be properly recorded and processes must be developed for sharing this information with sex work projects and sex workers
·       Require police forces to work constructively with sex workers and sex work support projects to address violence and other crimes against sex workers, particularly by creating the role of a sex work police liaison officer: a non enforcement officer dedicated to building positive relations with sex workers, encouraging the reporting of crimes against sex workers, and working with sex work support projects to develop formal protocols for the sharing of information.
·       All police forces should periodically, in partnership with local support projects/sex work organisations, run high profile promotional campaigns to encourage sex workers to report crimes against them and raising public awareness that violence against sex workers is a crime which the police will diligently prosecute.
·       Require forces to initially treat crimes against sex workers as hate crime to ensure such crime is treated as a priority: most crime against sex workers is perpetrated because they are sex workers.
·       All police officers should receive training, as part of diversity training re sex work. This should include understanding the diversity amongst sex workers and their choices in entering, continuing and exiting sex work, support service needs and specialist services as well as information about violence against sex workers.
·       When people involved in the sex industry report crimes, abuse or exploitation they should not be charged with sex work related offences as a result of reporting to the authorities.
·       Whenever and wherever possible – in the absence of abuse, exploitation or coercion – police forces should not seek to deter sex workers from working collectively.

Similar recommendations could be made regarding the wide range of other services which generally come into contact with the most vulnerable sex workers – social services, probation service, CPS etc: all must work with sex workers’ organisations to development effective, fair and beneficial policies for dealing with sex workers.

Migration and trafficking

·       Adopt the Italian model of support for victims of trafficking: the experience of Italy shows that a truly human rights based approach to trafficking can work effectively and that there is no significant pull factor associated with giving victims of trafficking full human rights. Other countries have introduced or are considering introducing a similar regime.
·       Tackle trafficking at source through partnership working with countries of origin involving sex workers, taking a migrants’ rights approach and drawing on existing good practice – e.g., the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women’s Migrant Women’s Handbook or Ziteng’s What to Know Before You Go. The European Union Expert Group on Trafficking recognised this as one of the most effective approaches in combating trafficking.
·       All migrant sex workers should have access to sexual health services – it is insufficient that they already have the right of access, as services are not always accessible physically and psychologically. Ensure migrant sex workers are aware of their right to access services confidentially and without charge.
·       To reduce the abuse and exploitation of migrants in many industries, as well as the sex industry, the government must ratify the UN International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (1990), thereby requiring a thorough review of immigration and work restrictions.

Working with clients

·       Encourage clients to report concerns about trafficking or coercion, either by a dedicated hotline or through Crimestoppers.
·       Resources aimed at those who purchase sex should focus on addressing the perpetrators of violence against sex workers rather than all purchasers of sexual services. It should not be the aim of government to judge and/or punish consensual adult sexual behaviour.

Active citizenship and equal opportunities

·       There needs to be formal inclusion of sex workers and sex workers’ organisations in discussions of the sex industry at a national and local level.

·       Capacity building support and funding for self-organising of sex workers, unionisation and support mechanisms would enable the development and expansion of sex workers’ organisations and increase their participation in civil society.
·       Issue guidance to training agencies and employers about how to support sex workers with criminal convictions or police records into employment.
·       Advertising by businesses in the sex industry, whether for staff (e.g., in JobCentres) or for clients (e.g., in local newspapers) should be held to the same standards as other industries and should not be considered offensive simply because it relates to adult entertainment.
·       An end to indirect discrimination: for example, where sex workers are working from home and planning law is invoked against them, the burden of proof should be on the local authority to demonstrate that they are also trying to evict or shut down other individuals working from home.

ONLY RIGHTS WILL STOP THE WRONGS

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