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New report shows complex nature of prostitution and sex work in England & Wales

Last Updated: 30/10/2019

A report into the nature and prevalence of prostitution in England & Wales has been published today by the Home Office.

The research, conducted by the University of Bristol, is a significant step in understanding sex work in England and Wales, the variety of different services and for what reasons people become involved.

It shows a complex picture, with individuals from a variety of walks of life taking part in a range of services, from street work to webcamming, for a wide number of reasons.

The report looks at prostitution and sex work in England & Wales – how people enter the industry, the challenges they face and their attitudes about what they do. It also recognises the harms associated with prostitution and sex work, including that there are people who have been forced into the sex industry and may face exploitation and illegal activity.

The government will use the report to continue to build a robust picture of sex work and put safeguarding and reducing harm at the heart of its response. The report specifically urges ‘caution in seeking to make generalised claims’ about people in the sector.

One of the authors of the report, Professor Marianne Hester OBE, said:

“In the most comprehensive overview of prostitution and sex work to date, we show how individual and social drivers for involvement, a wide range of settings and activities, and individual needs to negotiate harm and safety, have resulted in a highly mobile landscape for contemporary prostitution and sex work.”

A survey of sex workers conducted as part of the research shows that while individuals from all backgrounds undertake sex work, the majority are women. Data from adult sites suggest that a significant number of male or trans sex workers, based particularly in London.

The report also highlights the wide variety of types of sex work, ranging from traditional concepts such as brothels and street prostitution, to more modern activities such as webcamming and sugar daddy arrangements.

Respondents to the survey also showed that the pattern of movement of sex workers is complex, with individuals frequently moving both in and out of sex work, as well as regularly moving between settings and services.

The government will analyse the research carefully. We will also use other findings, such as the evidence given to the current Women and Equalities Select Committee inquiry into prostitution, before it makes future policy announcements.

Currently in the UK the acts of buying and selling sex are legal, however a number of other related activities are, such as soliciting in a public place or keeping or managing a brothel are illegal.

Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales, Emma Wools said:

“Our aim, when we commissioned this research, was to establish an overview of the evolving nature of prostitution across England & Wales, with the longer term aim of improving how we protect the vulnerable.

“The findings of the report from the University of Bristol challenge the traditionally held views, providing clear evidence that prostitution is now extremely complex and multi-faceted. This research must now act as a foundation on which to build and it is critical that we work together to deliver an effective response.”


English and Welsh copies of the report can be downloaded from the website here.

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