“It’s not only a financial problem, it’s causing mental health issues from the constant worry about money, bills and feeding a family”
The number of women working in the UK sex industry has increased due to spiralling prices and soaring energy bills pushing more people into financial need. Women who have left the sector behind are having to return while others are entering for the first time to make ends meet.
With household budgets being affected, women have been left with no option but to turn to sex work to look after themselves and their families despite the risk associated with sex work in the UK. Katie, who has worked in the adult industry across Bristol and the South West for 12 years, told Bristol Live that the pandemic has played a huge part in the number of women entering the sector but it’s not as easy as it may seem.
She said: “There are more women in the industry since covid think it is easy quick money. They soon realise when the newbie phase is over, business slows down that’s where experienced women in the industry shine. We have spent long time building relationships with clients for them to come to explore sexual fantasies. That’s where the hard work kicks in. So they drop prices – undercutting others. This practice is short-lived but it has seen the industry as a whole having to compete and lower prices for services to adapt to the global economy.”
Katie said clients are spending less money which poses a threat to the women who are working with the same number of clients. “The impact is massive and can have sex workers living in poverty struggling to survive financially. Obviously, there are some that this doesn’t affect but on a whole, it’s affecting us all. It means we are working longer hours for a lot less money and some women are taking massive risks to attract the clients in,” she added.
Katie, who is training to be a counsellor to help and support sex workers staying in the industry, said: “There is a massive mental health service gap that the government isn’t doing enough about- let alone to support sex workers”.
She continued: “It’s a sad state of affairs. It’s not only a financial problem, it’s causing mental health issues from the constant worry about money, bills and feeding a family, taking massive risks with health as well as lack of sleep – will all take its toll. Yes, there are places but very few support sex workers to stay in the industry and help them build a positive strong mental attitude and work smarter not harder.
A Niki Adams from The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) said the cost of living crisis has been “absolutely devastating” and “frightening” for sex workers.
She said: “It’s a worrying time for everybody. It’s really hard for everybody and because sex workers do not have workers’ status due to it being illegal, many of the remedies that are available to other people are not available to sex workers.
“You don’t even have the option of basic protection, women have described going back to work in worse conditions than when they were working previously. They are having to work longer hours and often in more unsafe situations. These women are unable to complain to anyone and they can’t even go to the police to complain about violence because they risk arrest. It’s a very horrifying situation.”
She believes “the powers at be” [Government] have an “obligation to support sex workers” if they wish to see less prostitution. According to her, the current economic policies are making it more dangerous and difficult for women who are working and increasing prostitution. According to Ms Adams some women who left the industry five or seven years ago to work in other industries, have been forced to return due to their current wages, some of which do not cover the cost of child care. She said some women even struggle to buy school uniforms.
The women’s help centre conducted a recent survey based on the number of calls received on their helpline from women who are starting work but also going back into sex work because they are “unable to make ends meet”.
The study which ran from August until the end of September this year showed a noticeable increase of around a third. Women were asking for advice on going back into the sex industry, the laws and safety mechanisms as well as a number of people facing housing issues. From being unable to pay rent or eviction, to advice about managing benefits such as Universal Credit.
Ms Adams said there has been an increase in the number of sex workers being stalked and harassed while working. Additionally, prostitution laws make it illegal for women to work on the street but also work together with others inside a building. She said if the two were caught in a flat they could be prosecuted and convicted which carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.
“Under these circumstances, the idea that sex workers are criminalised for trying to survive – is really scandalous because everybody knows it’s a crisis and women are often more affected by the cuts and disproportionately targeted, ” she added.