New study about migrant sex workers in the UK
New London Metropolitan University research finds that decriminalising sex work and the people involved and making it easier for all migrants to become and remain documented would improve sex workers’ lives and working conditions and enable them to exercise their rights more fully.
In an environment of increasing labour migration, ever more restrictive immigration policy and an increasingly globalised capitalism that favours ‘flexible’, and low paid, workers, migrants have come to form the majority of those who sell sex. Debates (PDF) on migration and the sex industry are often characterised by an ethnicist anti-migrant discourse, by an almost exclusive focus on women, as well as by a marked emphasis on trafficking and exploitation. In the UK, the Home Office is promoting new prostitution strategies aimed at reducing the exploitation of women by criminalising clients and by introducing potentially arbitrary ways of disrupting or closing down commercial sex premises. By gathering the life histories of migrant women, men and transgendered people working in the UK sex industry the research provides an evidence-based analysis which can contribute to the elaboration of more effective policies and socialinterventions on migration, prostitution, trafficking and social exclusion.
- the large majority of interviewed migrant workers in the UK sex industry are not forced nor trafficked,
- immigration status is by far the most important factor restricting their ability to exercise their rights in their professional and private lives,
- working in the sex industry is often a way for migrants to avoid the unrewarding and sometimes exploitative conditions they meet in non-sexual jobs.
- by working in the sex industry, many interviewees are able to maintain dignified living standards in the UK while dramatically improving the living conditions of their families in the country of origin,
- the stigmatisation of sex work is the main problem interviewees experienced while working in the sex industry and this impacted negatively on both their private and professional lives,
- the combination of the stigmatisation of sex work and lack of legal immigration documentation makes interviewees more vulnerable to violence and crime,
- interviewees generally describe relations with their employers and clients as characterised by mutual consent and respect, although some reported problematic clients and employers, who were disrespectful, aggressive or abusive,
- the impossibility of guaranteeing indefinite leave to remain to victims of trafficking undermines the efforts of the police and other authorities against criminal organisations,
- most interviewees feel that the criminalisation of clients will not stop the sex industry and that it would be pushed underground, making it more difficult for migrants working in the UK sex industry to assert their rights in relation to both clients and employers,
All interviewees thought that decriminalising sex work and the people involved and making it easier for all migrants to become and remain documented would improve their living and working conditions and enable them to exercise their rights more fully.