Date of Event: Thursday, May 4th 2023
Time of Event: 9:30 AM — 1:15 PM
Place of Event: Webinar
There were believed to be 105,000 individuals in the UK who are involved in prostitution, up from 72,000 in 2016. The vast majority of these are women. The cost-of-living crisis is pushing yet more women into sex work and forcing them to take work from violent and exploitative clients. A 2015 National Ugly Mugs Our survey with Leeds University found 49% of sex workers were “worried” or “very worried” about their safety and 47% have been targeted by offenders. Meanwhile, 49% were either “unconfident” or “very unconfident” that police would take their reports seriously. It is estimated that 152 sex workers were murdered in the UK between 1990 and 2015. The charity Beyond the Streets highlights that 76% of those involved in prostitution experience some form of post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of this work.
Currently, sex work is legal in England, Wales and Scotland, but many of the surrounding aspects remain illegal, such as solicitation or running a brothel. The UK government have stated though that whilst they do not intend to change the law around sex work, they are committed to tackling the harm and exploitation associated with sex work. The Scottish government has also been criticised for focussing their support in this area towards charities that are not backed by sex workers, and that are focussed on getting people out of the industry rather than supporting those in it.
The Home Affairs Committee’s 2016 report, Prostitution, recommended a shift to complete decriminalisation. Dan Vajzovic, the National Police Chief Council’s lead for prostitution, who is working alongside government officials to reassess brothel keeping legislation, has called on the government to review prostitution laws to ensure sex workers can work together on the same premises to remain safe. This would “better enable the police to focus our resources on protecting sex workers and tackling those who are controlling or exploiting,” Vajzovic argues. According to National Ugly Mugs, sex workers are ten times safer working indoors than on the streets.
Christine Jardine MP, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for women and equalities, who supports the decriminalisation of brothel keeping, has called for a proper government strategy to accompany it. Also supporting decriminalisation of brothels, Labour MP, Nadia Whittome, has highlighted that “Other laws aimed at sex work – such as soliciting – should also be repealed, to improve sex workers’ rights, safety and ability to leave the sex industry if they choose. Alongside decriminalisation, the government must urgently tackle the growing levels of poverty that are pushing more women into sex work to make ends meet.”
This timely symposium will provide sex workers, safeguarding boards, police forces, local authorities, and social care providers with an opportunity to identify and debate priorities for reform and develop strategies for protecting and expanding the rights of sex workers.