The irony of sex work, austerity and censorship

Austerity appears to be pushing more women into the sex industry but a proposed ban of advertising sex online would cut off their income source. Britain's sex workers are pushing back.

Lydia Morrish
Lydia Morrish NewsMavens, United Kingdom
The irony of sex work, austerity and censorship - NewsMavens
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Why this story matters:

“Before I was in the sex industry, I had 60 packets of ramen noodles, absolutely no money left in my overdraft, and no other source of income,” Lydia, a 21-year-old history student and sex worker, told me.

Three years on, she's more financially stable but is one of many sex work activists in the UK frustrated with a situation that pushes them into the sex industry and then penalizes them for it.

It's been suggested by politicians that criminalizing or part criminalizing the industry through the Nordic model – banning the buying of sex but not the selling of it – better protects women. But such suggestions overlook why women enter the sex industry in the first place.

Against a backdrop of government budget cuts and a benefit system that fails to help the country's vulnerable, a growing number of women with disabilities are going into sex work just to survive, according to research and interviews with sex workers with disabilities by Dr Frances Ryan, a Guardian columnist and author.

On top of this, UK politicians have considered adopting rules that would ban sex workers from advertising sexual services online, which sex work organizations say would push them onto the streets and make them less safe. 

Details from the story:

  • UK politicians recently considered adopting rules inspired by legislation in the United States known as "FOSTA-SESTA". Signed into law in April 2018, it bans websites from hosting ads for sex.
  • Sex workers, activists and campaigners argue that laws like this simply push them onto the streets, which is a much more dangerous place to advertise sex than the internet.
  • On the street, there is no filter system like there is online for workers to vet potential clients and perform background checks.
  • The Nordic model, which criminalizes the buyers of sex, is becoming more popular across Europe with Ireland its latest adopter and the UK considering it.
  • But activists argue criminalising buyers de facto criminalizes sellers, with convictions making it more stigmatised and harder leave the industry to find alternative work.
  • This has been "brutally demonstrated", according to sex worker organizations, in one recent case: two Romanian sex workers, Adrina Podaru and Ana Tomascu, were convicted under Ireland's Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act for keeping a brothel although there were no clients and no significant amount of money found on the scene when police raided their property.
  • At this critical time in which Britain's unstable economic condition means sex work is a lifeline for some women, the irony of attempts to make it harder to perform this work couldn't be clearer.
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