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While sex work has always been a precarious profession, the UK government is now pushing it to its limits. Writer Lydia Morrish meets the collectives and organisations who are revolting for their rights. The year-old Londoner is independent, chooses her own hours and sets which days she works. Like many sex workers in the UK, Lucy uses AdultWork, a popular adult website where escorts can advertise their services.
Most crucially, it also allows them to screen potential clients by leaving reviews and warning each other of dodgy, or dangerous, buyers. Unfortunately, the protective digital barrier of websites like AdultWork could soon be taken away, and sex workers across the UK may be driven offline and underground. British politicians are looking to push through legislation that would ban the advertising of sex work online and criminalise the buying of sex — a move which would effectively turn the sex industry upside down.
But a growing resistance movement of sex worker collectives, organisers and allies across Britain is trying to stop the march towards criminalisation in its tracks. Currently in England, Wales and Scotland, the act of prostitution is legal , but everything around it — soliciting in a public place, managing a brothel, pimping and kerb-crawling — is outlawed.
Buying sex could soon be illegal too. While supporters of the package said it would help end online sex trafficking, the law has proved to be damaging for those consensually in the industry. They say it has driven them offline and into riskier situations, and painted an image of sex workers as victims o f sex trafficking by conflating consensual sex work with non-consensual sex work.
The bills fail to differentiate between the two. Instead of protecting sex workers, such laws can, in fact, be a catalyst for exploitation. Many of the activist groups I meet point to the largest ever study into migrants working in the London sex industry in It found that only six per cent of sex workers had been trafficked.