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Under-reported: Society’s failure to protect the growing number of sex workers

Credit: Getty

Credit: Getty

December 29, 2017   2 mins

Key facts about sex work in the UK
Over 70,000 people are estimated to provide sex for money in the UK with nearly half of these working in London.

£78 is the average payment for services that a prostitute receives and on the basis of serving 25 clients per week, a sex worker can earn £2,000 over seven days.

The New Statesman reported: “The Home Office-founded charity, National Ugly Mugs, which issues safety alerts to thousands of sex workers across the UK, received reports of 446 incidents [last] year (48 rapes, 11 attempted rapes, 31 cases of sexual violence, 181 violent attacks).”

My entry to UnHerd’s under-reported series is the plight of some of our society’s most vulnerable workers: sex workers.

And here I don’t mean to point to the usual stories involving sex trafficking and abuse, but the (sadly) undereported story that is the state’s consistent failure to provide basic market support that, in turn, condemns sex workers to a life that is significantly more dangerous than would otherwise be the case.

A lack of recognition of sex work (as a career like any other) means that sex workers are consistently being persecuted by the authorities rather than given the basic legal and social insurance footings that any other form of work offers. This marginalises sex workers and leaves them vulnerable to abuse – not only from clients but from the authorities themselves, with the latter making the former more likely as sex workers have nowhere to turn.

I have little patience for moralistic attitudes that have resulted, for centuries, in politicians brushing the issue under the carpet. Sex work has existed since markets were first created and it’s not going away anytime soon – in fact, demand is growing. To moralise is not only to ignore some of the most vulnerable workers in our society but to actively make the choice to leave them in a much more precarious position.

It’s time we not only put the practicality of sex workers’ lives before our own moralism but that we also dig deep within ourselves to ask why we respond in the way that we tend to do as a society. That may have something to do with the way, historically, a woman’s virtue has been tied to sexual purity… the way in which we fear women being in control of their own sexuality.. and the sense in which, since the Enlightenment, we have lifted the brain to a position that is superior to the body.

For readers wanting to explore more I recommend my piece for Times Higher Education – “Prostitutes need the help of economists to argue for the rights and protections that other workers take for granted“.


Introduction to this Under-reported series.

Summary guide to all under-reported articles in this series.

Dr Victoria Bateman is Fellow in Economics at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. She writes regular economic commentary for Bloomberg View and CapX, and is known for her stance on Brexit and for using art to explore perceptions of the female body.


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