Inside the UK's sex worker revolt

As the British government moves towards stricter rules for the sex industry, women are standing up for their rights as workers.

Lydia Morrish
Lydia Morrish NewsMavens, United Kingdom
Inside the UK's sex worker revolt - NewsMavens
Protest of English Collective of Prostitutes, YouTube

Why this story matters:

Sex work is an eternal paradox for many feminists. On the one hand, we may fundamentally disagree with a female body being sold for sex, furthering the objectification and sexualisation of women. On the other hand, we believe women should be able to do as they wish with the bodies they have fought so hard to have rights over.

The truth is, supporting those in the sex industry is not the same as supporting sex work itself.

Across the UK, and in a global movement for sex worker rights, feminist prostitutes and escorts are calling for the public to listen to their needs and reinforce laws that protect them, not push them further to the fringes.

British politicians are considering laws to combat trafficking that sex workers say will instead drive them further underground. They say trying to make sex work illegal obfuscates the real reason the sex industry exists and is as enduring as it is.

A patchwork of socio-economical factors result in women entering the sex industry. And despite common belief that most sex workers are in the industry non-consensually -- a reason cited by officials for criminalizing the industry -- just 6% of London's sex workers are trafficked.

Details from the story:

  • To combat trafficking, a group of MPs in Britain is pushing for tougher laws on the sex industry.
  • Politicians suggest a law similar to FOSTA/SESTA in the United States, which bans the advertising of sex online. However, sex workers say it pushes them on to the streets and into riskier situations.
  • The government is also considering the "Nordic model" of sex work, in which clients are criminalized, but sellers are not. While intended to protect people who sell sex, violence against sex workers has increased in some countries that have adopted the model, such as Ireland and France.
  • Sex worker collectives are pushing back against the British government's proposals, saying they deserve the same rights that other workers do.
  • Blair Buchanan, a London-based activist and sex worker, told me that sex work needs to be treated as the labour it is: “It is a fact that sex work puts food on the table, pays the bills and provides the material resources that thousands of families need across the UK. Whether or not people like that work or feel that it’s moral or valuable, it is obviously work.” 
  • Trying to make sex work illegal, Buchanan says, detracts from the real reason many women go into sex work: poverty. “There’s a reason most sex workers are poor women, undocumented migrants, people of colour and LGBT people.”
  • The UK has an estimated 73,000 sex workers. While trafficking is an issue across Britain, only 6% of sex workers are believed to be trafficked.
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