Prostitution and sex work: nature and prevalence in England and Wales (report)

University of Bristol, commissioned by the Home Office and the Office of the South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner, October 2019

The University of Bristol was commissioned by the Home Office and the Office of the South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner to look in to the current ‘nature’ and ‘prevalence’ of prostitution in England and Wales, involving adults aged 18 or over. The research was carried out between May 2018 and June 2019.  We were not asked to report on policy or law.  Drawing on the literature and initial findings, we used the following definition:

Prostitution and/or sex work constitutes the provision of sexual or erotic acts or sexual intimacy in exchange for payment or other benefit or need.

Following a systematic search of the existing national and international evidence base, including a review of previous prevalence studies, we sought views, data and personal experiences through a 6-month public online survey, yielding almost 1200 often detailed responses with over 500 from those currently or formerly involved in selling sexual services.  We also worked through NGOs and support services to identify individuals unlikely to respond to online surveys. We completed follow up in-depth email interviews with 42 individuals.  We invited 155 organisations, collectives and individuals to consult on our draft finding at four regional meetings in early 2019.

Given methodological and ethical constraints, we recognise two groups whose voices are under-represented or absent within this report: (1) Migrant sex workers; (2) British and non-British individuals who are/were forcibly coerced, who are/were trafficked, who are/were sexually exploited and/or who are traumatised in relation to their experience.

In terms of ‘prevalence’, currently in England and Wales there is no source of data which allows for the production of representative population estimates for this group.  Stigma, the private and hidden nature of the sex industry, complex engagement patterns and definitions of activities mean that estimating prevalence is challenging.  Producing an accurate estimate would require studies to follow the guidance and recommendations on data collection jointly produced by the UNAIDS and World Health Organisation (WHO) (2010) and/or to use statistically representative samples.  Focused and small-scale prevalence studies are also more likely to be accurate.  The report provides guidance on such work.

In terms of ‘nature’, overall, we found that the way that sex is sold in England and Wales today is both complex and diverse.  It is common for individuals to move between settings and services, for safety or to maintain income, and to engage full-time, part-time (sometimes alongside other paid work or study), intermittently or casually.  Looking across our data, we identified and structured our commentary around the following:

Cross-cutting themes

Identifying sex work, identifying as a sex worker

·         Social identities, inequalities and routes in

·         Patterns of engagement and moving between settings/services

·         Advertising, payment and third parties

·         Risk, harm and managing safety

·         Buyers and buying

 Settings and services

·         Bar-based sex work and hostess bars

·         BDSM, kink and fetish

·         Brothels, parlours, saunas

·         Erotic and exotic dance

·         Erotic massage

·         Escort: independent

·         Escort: agency

·         Pornography, glamour, erotica

·         Sex parties

·         Street and outdoor sex work

·         Sugar arrangements

·         Telephone, text-based, TV-based, live voyeurism

·         Therapeutic services

·         Webcamming

Individuals selling sex in England and Wales today are varied in terms of demographics and motivation. At the same time, there are recurrent patterns of experience or identity that mark some individuals’ entry into the sex industry and/or the type of setting, service or the conditions in which they work.

We found that a substantial proportion of individuals (mainly women and trans women) are selling sex to get by financially, given different constraints in their lives around caring responsibilities, physical and mental health, lack of access to social security benefits and support services, workplace discrimination, or other reasons.  Their situation is compounded by stigma and managing safety, and many find that the longer they sell sex, the harder it can be to leave completely.  This moves beyond individual ‘choosing or ‘not choosing’ and recognises the structural economic and social context in which choices are narrowed: or in the case of those coerced in to selling sex, choices removed.

Advertising (in)equality: the impacts of sexist advertising on women’s health and wellbeing

Women’s Health Victoria, Issues Paper No. 14, December 2018

 

The aim of this issues paper is to provide an overview of significant literature

currently published on the nature of gender portrayals in advertising, and the

impacts of these representations on women’s health and wellbeing, gender

inequality and attitudes and behaviours that support violence against women.

 

This issues paper found that the continued use of gender stereotypes

and increasing reliance on images that sexualise and objectify women in

advertisements undermines efforts to promote gender equality in Australia.

Gender-stereotyped portrayals limit the aspirations, expectations, interests and

participation of women and men in our society. These portrayals are associated

with a range of negative health and wellbeing outcomes and are highly

problematic for the prevention of family violence and other forms of violence

against women.

 

The studies cited in this paper demonstrate that there is a clear business

case for change. Brands, businesses and creative agencies can benefit from

portraying both women and men proportionately, respectfully and realistically.

 

Australian sex workers fear US anti-trafficking laws could make the internet off limits

ABC News, 10/4/2018

Think about the tools you use for work, and then imagine a legal change on the other side of the world could take them out of your hands.

Sex workers fear that could happen in Australia if a contentious US bill becomes law. It’s aimed at making websites liable if they’re used to facilitate “sex trafficking”.

Like every profession, sex work is increasingly online, which means it often occurs on American web platforms.

 

TGA backs consumer adverts for ulipristal in Australia

Pharmacy News, 19 May, 2017

The TGA has agreed that consumer advertising should be allowed for the emergency contraceptive ulipristal.

This will help increase public awareness and access to ulipristal (branded EllaOne) and therefore reduce unplanned pregnancies, says the TGA.

 

 

Online sex industry provides critical safety & health protections for male sex workers

BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, July 7th, 2016

Newly published peer review research shows how the loss of ‘Boystown’—the main sex work stroll for men in Vancouver—over the last decade, has led to loss of community and social solidarity; key protective strategies for sex workers. At the same time, the shift to online sex work for men has provided critical safety and health protections for sex workers in screening prospective clients and negotiating terms of transactions.

  • Read more of press release here