Briefing: Oppose a ban on sex workers advertising online

Stop attacking sex workers. Listen to what sex workers say would make our work safer & support us in our efforts to organise against exploitation and violence.

On Wednesday 4 July, MPs are due to debate a proposal from the discredited All Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution (APPGP) to close down online sites where sex workers advertise.

This would be a disaster for sex workers. If we can’t advertise online and work independently many of us would be forced to work in other ways including on the streets where it is much more dangerous to work.[i] Or we will be pushed into the hands of exploitative brothel bosses who would know we have little or no alternative to accept whatever conditions of work they impose on us

Cybil, from Luton, wrote to the ECP about the impact of a ban on advertising:

“Two years ago, I built my own website which meant I could be my own boss and leave the parlour where I worked and where they took a large slice of my income. Now I can work with complete anonymity, from the safety and convenience of my own home. I keep every penny I earn, all without the interference of an agency or other ubiquitous “middle man.”

Similar laws (SESTA-FOSTA) have just been introduced in the US and the police say it has made it harder for them to identify violence.[ii] One US sex worker wrote:[iii]

 ‘This bill is killing us. We can’t screen clients like we used to, which is what was keeping us safe’.

The increase in prostitution is not due to online advertising, it is due to increasing poverty especially among cis and trans women. Doncaster reports a 60% increase[iv] with charities saying: “Women are being forced to sell sex for £5 because of benefit sanctions”, Sheffield reports a 166% increase[v] while charity workers in Hull report: “ . . . women who are literally starving and they are out there to feed themselves.”

People of colour, immigrant and LGBTQ people are disproportionally represented in sex work because of discrimination and stigma. Students speak of being forced into the sex industry to avoid being saddled with massive debts. These are some of the people who will be targeted by this new law with additional police powers likely to be used to hound rather than protect sex workers. Police time and resources should go into investigating violence against sex workers rather than policing consenting sex.

Trafficking and lies damn lies and statistics. Tackling the “growth in sexual exploitation and the trafficking of women” is given as the justification for banning prostitution sites. No concrete evidence beyond sensationalised speculation has been offered. It is not true that most sex workers are trafficked.[vi][vii] Anti-trafficking initiatives primarily result in migrant sex workers being targeted for raids, arrests and deportation.[viii] If parliamentarians want to act against trafficking then ensure victims get support and end the discredited “hostile immigration environment” so that people fleeing war and poverty aren’t forced into the hands of traffickers.

Thousands of sex workers are advertising online. Who is Sarah Champion MP (member of the APPGP) to say that it hasn’t made us safer?[ix] Has she tried it? Advertising online has enabled sex workers to better screen clients and escape exploitative bosses in parlours and agencies. If well-meaning MPs want to save women from sex work then take action against zero-hour contracts, low wages and exploitative bosses in the jobs that are the alternatives to prostitution.

The recent APPGP prostitution report was sloppy and biased. It is full of speculation and misinformation.[x] None of the evidence[xi] given by current sex workers was included. How do they justify that? It should be scrutinised and not accepted uncritically based on the sensationalised headlines it generated.

Plus, the APPGP isn’t a “cross-party” group of MPs which makes it sound independent or somehow unbiased. It was set up with the purpose of criminalising clients and for the first few years was closely tied up with the homophobic, Christian charity CARE which campaigned ferociously against gay marriage[xii] and opposes abortion rights.

The prestigious Home Affairs Select Committee in 2016 recommended[xiii] that sex workers on the street and working together in premises be decriminalised. Why don’t MPs push for that to be implemented? Repealing the law that criminalises “Loitering or Soliciting for the Purposes of Prostitution” and “Keeping a Brothel” would increase safety as sex workers would not be running from the police and could work together more safely from premises. Amending the law: “Controlling Prostitution for Gain” to ensure that people are prosecuted only where evidence of threats, force or other forms of coercion exists, would ensure that the law targets abuse and violence rather than women working consensually and collectively.

Amnesty International, voted in support of decriminalisation in 2016,[xiv] and called on governments to provide resources in the form of “state benefits, education and training and/or alternative employment” to help sex workers leave prostitution if they want.

New Zealand’s Prostitution Reform Act decriminalised sex work in 2003 with verifiable improvements in sex workers health and safety. Over 90% of sex workers said decriminalisation gave them additional employment, legal, health and safety rights.[xv]

We call on Labour women MPs in particular to reject the moralistic, repressive views behind this proposal and support sex workers like we hope you support other workers fighting to improve pay and conditions. The Liberal Democrats and Greens support decriminalisation.

Join us at 1pm on Wednesday 4 July at Parliament Square for a demo against the proposal which we are co-organising with Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement (SWARM), Scot-Pep, Sex Workers Alliance Ireland and the x:talk project. More information here.

The ECP is a self-help organisation of sex workers, working both on the street and in premises, with a national network throughout the UK. Since 1975, we have campaigned for the decriminalisation of prostitution, for sex workers’ rights and safety, and for resources to enable people to get out of prostitution if they want to.

020 7482 2496 • •


[i] 77% of violent incidents were experienced by street-based sex workers, 11% by inside solo sex workers and 6% by sex workers in brothels, parlours or saunas. Connelly, L. (2014) Violence against sex workers. Analysis of National Ugly Mugs.
[ii] Techdirt, 14 May 2018.
[iii] Huffington Post, 11 May 2018.
[iv] The Star, 19 March 2014.
[v] The Star, 1 June 2014.
[vi] A study of migrant sex workers found less than 6% had been trafficked, many said they prefer working in the sex industry rather than the “unrewarding and sometimes exploitative conditions they meet in non-sexual jobs”. Mai, N. (2011). Migrant Workers in the UK Sex Industry: ESRC Full Research Report.
[vii] The Guardian, 20 Oct 2009.
[ix] The Guardian, 30 June 2018.
[x] Metro, 21 May 2018.
[xi] English Collective of Prostitutes. (2017). Submission to APPG Inquiry into “Pop-up Brothels”.
[xiv] Amnesty International. (2016). Policy on State Obligations to Respect, Protect and Fulfil the Human Rights of Sex Workers.
[xv] Abel, G., Fitzgerald, L. & Brunton, C. (2007). The Impact of the. Prostitution Reform Act on the Health and Safety Practices of Sex Workers.