Sex work is often characterised as inherently exploitative. In this research, we compare
pay and conditions between sex work and other jobs disproportionately done by women. In doing so, we uncover many similarities and some crucial differences and throw light on the oft asked question: “Why do women become sex workers?”
We began this research after the Home Affairs Select Committee in 2016/7 recommended the decriminalisation of sex workers on the street and in premises, specifically that: “. . . the Home Office change existing legislation so that soliciting is no longer an offence and so that brothel-keeping provisions allow sex workers to share premises” and that legislation should be drafted to provide for the “deletion of previous convictions and cautions for prostitution from the record of sex workers.”
The government’s response was that it was concerned about the exploitative nature of sex work. Even the chair of the Home Affairs Committee, whilst highlighting how the current brothel-keeping laws mean “sex-workers can be too afraid of prosecution to work together at the same premises, which can often compromise their safety” said: “there must however be zero tolerance of the organised criminal exploitation of sex workers, and changes to legislation should not lessen the Home Office’s ability to prosecute those engaged in exploitation.”
By looking at sex work in the context of other “women’s work” we hope to break through the mystification and break down the divisions between sex workers and other women and other workers. Doing so would enable exploitation to be judged and addressed similarly across the range of jobs done by women.