Britain’s cost-of-living crisis is pushing more of its sex workers into taking potentially dangerous risks in order to make ends meet.
Rocketing UK inflation — which remains above 10 percent — has forced even more vulnerable Britons into such work to pay spiralling bills, advocates for the sector say.
The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP), which campaigns to decriminalise prostitution, improve safety and help sex workers leave the profession if they want, is worried about the impact of the soaring cost of living.
Jack Parker, 24, who works as a male escort in London, told AFP that he initially avoided clientele he had a “bad feeling” about.
But that changed as the number of clients rapidly dwindled, forcing him to drum up more business.
– ‘It’s a luxury’ –
“It used to be that if a client gave me any kind of bad feeling I wouldn’t book them,” Parker told AFP.
“But I started to see people I did have bad feelings about just because I was… not getting enough clients for me to be able to turn any down.”
The cost-of-living squeeze, which worsened dramatically last year, has also prompted cash-strapped customers to book less.
“For them it’s… a luxury thing that they’re cutting down on,” added Parker, who has slashed his hourly fee from £140 ($174) to £110 as a result.
Paying for sex is legal in the United Kingdom, apart from in Northern Ireland, but many related activities such as soliciting, running a brothel, pimping and advertising sexual services are illegal.
The ECP organisation argues that this isolates vulnerable sex workers and forces them underground.
Rampant inflation has worsened the matter as workers become ever more desperate.
“Everyone’s feeling the cost-of-living crisis,” spokesperson Bianca Blake told AFP.
“There are often fewer clients — and if there are fewer clients, then you have to work more to try and make the same amount of money that you were making before.”
– Online dimension –
Sex work is commonly used to refer to prostitution, but it can also be lap dancing, pornography, stripping or any other paid sexual services including telephone and internet sex.
During the Covid pandemic and beyond, demand has boomed for British-based website OnlyFans which streams paid-for content from sex workers and other content creators.
Julia, a 21-year-old student from London who declined to give her real name, earns a living by posting erotic photos and videos on the site.
She recently agreed to show her face to some clients, something she had previously avoided to ensure anonymity.
“Even though I knew it wasn’t a good idea, it was either that or pay rent late again,” she said.
“I only take pictures where you can’t see my face, from behind, or with a mask.”
She now lives in fear of “doxing”, or online exposure of her true identity without consent, which could damage her studies and future career.
The ECP last year launched a Hookers Against Hardship campaign to urge government action to prevent people sliding into prostitution as a result of debt, homelessness and poverty.
Sex worker Audrey C, who has created an online petition calling for the decriminalisation of prostitution, says she feels compelled to accept all clients simply to survive.
“I’m personally feeling the pressure to see clients I would normally refuse, or to provide services that I usually would not, just to be able to eat and keep a roof over my head,” she wrote in the petition.
“One of the main challenges I face as a sex worker is the potential risk of violence — not because sex work is inherently dangerous, but as a direct consequence of it being both criminalised and heavily stigmatised.”
– ‘I needed the money’ –
Parker, who chronicles his working life on Twitter, now uses a mobile phone app that UK sex workers use to file reports on abusive customers.
However, he says he has still suffered violent abuse because he was simply desperate to make ends meet.
“I have been assaulted… (with) clients grabbing me or starting to choke me, and me pushing them off and telling them not to do that,” he told AFP.
“That kind of thing… happened a lot more because I was taking clients who were risky, who did have reports on them, because I just needed the money.”