Study finds internet gives sex workers more control over work and cuts risk of physical attack.
Matthew Weaver - Tuesday 23rd January 2018
The internet has helped prostitution become a satisfying and relatively safe career, according to one of the biggest studies of sex workers conducted.
The survey of 641 UK sex workers [pdf] who use the internet to find clients or perform services found that more 80% were either satisfied or very satisfied with their working conditions, with half agreeing that their work was socially useful most or all of the time.
The study by academics at the universities of Leicester and Strathclyde found that the internet had given sex workers much more control over their working conditions and reduced the risk of physical attack. It found a high level of online abuse, but only 5% of those surveyed had experienced physical assault in the last year.
Teela Sanders, professor of criminology, said the survey represented the largest database of online sex workers in Europe “if not beyond”.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said: “One of the really interesting findings is that the types of crimes that sex workers are experiencing have changed. So there was a much lower incidence of violent crime, sexual and physical assault than in other studies. But there was high levels of digitally facilitated crimes – harassment by email and and text, for example.”
Those interviewed for the study said the internet allowed them to screen clients, avoid drugs and alcohol, choose where they work and provide peer support. Almost 80% said the internet had improved the quality of their working life.
Charlotte Rose, a sex worker, said the internet had made her job much safer. She told Today: “It still doesn’t take away the dangers that sex comes with, but as a sex worker I feel a lot safer knowing that I can vet my clients.
“Ten years ago it was just a phone call, whereas now it’s a phone call, it’s an email, we can research their names online. There’s an organisation called National Ugly Mugs that gives us an opportunity to check phone numbers, to see if they have been reported. This is absolutely brilliant for sex workers’ safety.”
The study found that sex workers were often highly qualified: more than a fifth had a degree, while 14.4% had a postgraduate qualification.
More than a third said they rarely or never experienced stress at work. More than half strongly agreed that they were well-paid, with more than 10% reporting earning more than £50,000 a year.
The vast majority used a pseudonym at work, to help protect their safety, and more than half said they were worried their neighbours would find out about the nature of their work.
Only 23% of those surveyed had reported crime to the police, and 39% felt they were unlikely to report further crimes because of concerns about how the law stands – particularly over the ban on brothels.
Cambridgeshire police assistant chief constable Dan Vajzovic, who leads on prostitution for the National Police Chiefs Council, which sponsored the survey, encouraged more sex workers to report crimes.
He told Today: “The act of prostitution itself is not illegal; we are not the moral police. We are here to enforce the law and our focus is going to primarily be on targeting those people who coerce or exploit sex workers through modern-day slavery and protecting those who are vulnerable to crime.
He added: “The keeping of a brothel is illegal under current legislation, but if a serious crime takes place at a brothel our focus is going to be on investigating that allegation and not on trying to criminalise people who have been a victim of a serious crime.”