Open Letter from the Sex Work Research Hub to the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission on the Global Sex Trade
The Sex Work Research Hub is a network of experts and academics, including the majority of UK-based academics researching different aspects of sex work in the UK and internationally. We read with interest the recent report by the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, The Limits of Consent, 2019.
As a body of scholars responsible for delivering publicly-funded research at the highest standards we are deeply concerned about the flawed methodology and ideological bias characterising this report. The self-fulfilling premise of the research and associated findings cannot be regarded as a credible and authoritative basis for policymaking on the complex relationship between sex work and sexual exploitation.
The collective voting record for the group of MPs who commissioned this report reveals that the majority have consistently voted against welfare reforms, gay marriage, abortion rights, and equality legislation. Those who have made parliamentary statements related to sex work favour criminalisation. MP Fiona Bruce, who is the chair of this report, is an Evangelical Alliance council member, sits on the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, and has long campaigned to criminalise the clients of sex workers. As citizens and as members of the academic community, we question whether it is in the public interest for a commission so blatantly invested in neo-abolitionist politics to produce a report on the sex trade.
My name is Jordan and I am a researcher from Swansea University in sunny South Wales. My background is in Criminology, with my undergrad and now PhD study both being Criminology related. I am currently working on the data collection element of my PhD, which focuses on violent and harmful behaviours committed against male sex workers, and the reporting of these behaviours.
I started this work looking at the safety and rights of male sex workers more generally as much of the research focus previously has been on female sex work, and it was discussions with National Ugly Mugs (NUM) which led me to focus more intently on the reporting of harmful behaviours committed against men who work within the sex industry. It seems as though there is a reluctance to report these harmful actions, and it would be great if we could find out why so that we can improve the reporting mechanisms and support available to male sex workers.
The study includes an online survey, which asks questions about the participant, their work and their experience of reporting the harmful actions of others. The purpose of this survey is to inform the interviews which will go into more detail about the issue. I decided to use a survey to help develop the interviews because there is only so much that previous research can teach me, with real life experience far more important in identifying the issues for discussion.
If you feel that this is a topic that you could or somebody you know could contribute to, please follow the below link to the survey where more information surrounding confidentiality and how the data will be used is provided.
If you would like to contact me in the meantime to discuss the research, my twitter is @jordandawson and my email is email@example.com.
Thank you for reading!
The Beyond the Gaze project (funded by the ESRC) has come to an end after three year. We set out to look at the working practices, safety and regulation of online sex work. We have achieved a lot with an impressive team of researchers (Prof Teela Sanders, Dr Rosie Campbell – University of Leicester, & Prof Jane Scoular, Dr Jane Pitcher, Stewart Cunningham University of Strathclyde) and co-researchers from the sex work community.
Impact on policy and practice
What practitioners said:
BtG website: will be maintained for the foreseeable future: https://www.beyond-the-gaze.com/
Briefings: download free briefings about various aspects of our research project at: https://www.beyond-the-gaze.com/briefings/ Other documents such as journal articles can also be accessed.
Safety/privacy resources: download free safety/privacy info resources for online sex workers at: https://www.beyond-the-gaze.com/safety-info/ this includes a comprehansive PDF info document and flyers. We will be uplaoding tips cards at a later date.
Practice guidance: download free 'Practice Guidance for Working With Online Sex Workers' (2018) https://www.beyond-the-gaze.com/practitioners/
BtG twitter: we will remain on Twitter for the foreseeable future but will be less active: https://twitter.com/BeyondtheGaze
Practitioners Forum: At the final event a discussion group was held on the BtG and NUM Practitioners forum this will continue lead by NUM and Supported by the University of Leicester Del from NUM and Teela from BtG/Leicester Uni firstname.lastname@example.org
Call for papers! Postgraduate Sex Work Conference 26th March 2018 Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne
Northumbria University is hosting the Annual Sex Work Research Hub Postgraduate Sex Work Conference.
This conference is free of charge and includes lunch!
Submit your 300 word abstract by 31st January 2018 to: email@example.com
Include: the title of your paper, your name, institution and level of study
Registration is open to all PGRs; early stage researchers, research active practitioners, sex workers and Sex Work Research Hub members.
Registration info to follow shortly!
This event is hosted by the Sex Work Research Hub
By Stewart Cunningham, Teela Sanders, Lucy Platt, Pippa Grenfell, PG Macioti
As part of a Wellcome Trust funded project on ‘reviewing the occupational risks of sex workers in comparison to other ‘risky’ professions: mental ill-health, violence and murder’ we undertook analysis of a database of sex worker homicide in the UK between 1990 – 2016. While we cannot say with certainty that the database constitutes a record of absolutely all sex worker homicide in the UK we believe that it may be the most accurate existing resource on the subject given its proximity to the sex worker community and those with on the ground knowledge (it is currently held by National Ugly Mugs and was previously updated by Hilary Kinnell and then Shelly Stoops on behalf of UKNSWP).
We decided to classify the homicides based on whether the victim was killed in the course of work to better identify instances of occupational or work-related homicide. The database records 180 sex worker homicides between 1990 and 2016 and of these we classified 110 victims as being killed in the course of work, 37 of the homicides as being non-work related and in 33 of the cases we were unable to classify based on a lack of information. We conducted more detailed analysis on the 110 cases of known occupational homicide.
Cis-gendered women represented the vast majority of victims (n=105) of occupational homicide with two cis-gendered male victims and three trans women victims. The vast majority of homicide victims were street based sex workers (n=85) with a smaller number (n=24) of victims who worked indoors (work setting not known for one victim). The trends around work sector have, however, changed quite dramatically since 2010. Between 1990 and 1999, 85% (n=28) of sex work occupational homicide was committed against street based sex workers. The overall numbers of homicides increased significantly in 2000 to 2009 but the percentage of street based victims remained the same at 85% (n=50). Between 2010 and 2016, however, this pattern has reversed and there are now more indoor sex workers killed (59%, n=10) than street based sex workers (41%, n=7). This could, in part, reflect the changing working practices for sex workers with the rise of internet facilitated indoor working resulting in a significant decline in street based sex working.
The vast majority of victims (where ethnicity and nationality were known, n=100) were of white British ethnicity (n=77, 77%) with white Eastern European victims the next largest group (n=9, 9%). There were smaller numbers of mixed race (n=6), Black (n=5) and Asian (n=2) victims of various national identities. The proportion of homicide victims that have a migration background has increased in recent years. In the 20 years between 1990 and 1999 only 6% (n=5) of sex work occupational homicide victims (where nationality/migration status is known) were migrants compared to 94% (n=77) who were British born. Since 2010 the proportion of migrant victims has dramatically increased to 50% (n=8), exactly the same number of British born victims. This may be reflective of changes in the overall makeup of the sex industry with increasing numbers of migrant workers and/or suggest that offenders are specifically targeting migrants because of their potentially increased vulnerability.
The solve rate for sex worker occupational homicide improved substantially in the 2000s and since 2006 every single case has been solved with the offender convicted. It is also important to note that this current decade has the lowest number of sex worker homicides on record since the database was created. Between 2010 and 2016, 27 sex workers were murdered in total (17 while working) compared to 91 (60 while working) in 2000 – 2009 and 62 (33 while working) in 1990 – 1999.
Analysis of the homicide database shows changing trends in sex worker homicide with victims now being more likely to work indoors than on the street and also increasing numbers of migrant sex worker being targeted. Future research on sex worker homicide must consider the social and legal contexts in which sex work takes place and how this may impact on vulnerability to homicide. Legal change though cannot occur in isolation and much has to be done to challenge and counter the, still pervasive, stigma that exists against sex workers, making them so vulnerable to all forms of violence, including homicide. Only with a combination of anti-stigma work alongside meaningful legal and policy change that prioritizes sex worker safety can there be any hope of addressing the tragedy of sex worker homicide
The briefing papers can be found here:
By Katy Pilcher
Erotic dance is one of the most contentious issues in feminist debates today and a source of fascination in media representations, yet little is known about those who perform erotic dance for women customers, or the experiences of these spectators themselves. Through vivid ethnographies of a lesbian leisure venue and a male strip show, Erotic Performance and Spectatorship examines the gender and sexual politics of erotic dance, simultaneously relating these to debates about sex work more widely. Drawing on insights gleaned through participant observation within erotic dance spaces; interviews with dancers, customers and management; together with a photo-elicitation venture with a dancer, this book subverts previous assumptions that only women perform erotic dance and only men spectate, and develops the debate beyond assumptions that erotic dance is either straightforwardly degrading or empowering.
Through the voices of dancers and customers, together with my own reflections on participating in strip venues, this book provides a distinctive view on issues including the politics of looking and being watched; the aesthetic, emotional and body work of erotic dance; questions of power; and the embodied experiences of dancers and customers in these spaces. I draw out some of the key and the ‘queer’ moments that I perceive to be central to dancers’ and customers’ experiences within non-conventional erotic dance spaces, as well as being the moments through which we can think about the contestability of normative power relations. I make links between participants’ definitions of both venues as in some senses representing ‘women’s spaces’, and the tensions with this notion; the complex ways in which customers and dancers negotiate the dynamics of looking and being watched through critically engaging with conceptions of a sexual ‘gaze’; and how the particular venues that dancers work within is crucial to their ability to be able to experience autonomy through their work role. I highlight how people with erotic dance spaces challenge and negotiate heteronormative gender and sexual power relations, and what this indicates for the theorising of gender and sexual power relations more broadly.
The book includes reflections on the sensory experiences of researching erotic leisure venues, and includes anecdotes of encounters during the research process that have influenced the conclusions drawn. I comment upon the status of ‘sex work research’ within and outside the academy and the impact upon researchers who may be stigmatised (Hammond and Kingston, 2014), or considered to be doing ‘dirty’ (Irvine, 2014) or ‘morally’ tainted research. Theorised through a feminist and queer lens, overall, I argue that people’s engagement with erotic dance as both performers and customers is complex, and the book highlights the pleasures and the politics of participating in erotic dance spaces.
If you would like to review this book for an academic journal (and receive a free copy) please contact Katy to arrange this on firstname.lastname@example.org. It can be purchased at a discount using code FLR40 on the Routledge website.
By Allan Tyler
This spring, a chapter I have written about sex work appears in a book called – rather provocatively – Mad or Bad?: A Critical Approach to Counselling and Forensic Psychology (Vossler, Havard, Pike, Barker & Raabe, 2017). The book itself aims to deal with some of the topics that have been stigmatised and/or have remained unfamiliar to counsellors, forensic psychologists, and other helping professionals in the past. Importantly, sex and sexuality are addressed critically from a number of standpoints. My contribution aims to examine a diversity of experiences selling sex and challenge assumptions about sex work, including why and how sex work is framed in contexts of mental health and crime.
A bit about me: I didn’t start out as a sex work researcher and came into the field rather naively. Very naively. Until 2007, almost all of my (professional) research was related to body image and commercial applications of how our clothing fits. But none of us are Just Workers, and part of my own story was my migration from farm-country Canada and my concomitant migration into big-city London’s queer scene/s in the early-to-mid 90s. What I had observed and learned about men’s bodies and how gay and bi men used their bodies was another education entirely. After more than a dozen years of reading magazines with columns (and then pages) of ads placed by men labelled ‘Escorts’ and ‘Masseurs’, it was those experiences – or lack thereof – that prompted me to ask the rather loose question, ‘What exactly is going on here?’
My approach into sex work research through queer-scene advertising seems sideways by colleagues whose professional experiences are policing, psychology, or indeed sex work itself. But as the adage goes, ‘What makes you different makes you beautiful,’ and the opportunity I had was a unique approach to a phenomenon which is simultaneously remote yet familiar – remote from many people’s personal experiences but familiar in repertoires of sexuality, moral education and portrayals of violence in the media. My opportunity has been to approach sex work from perspectives of men who sell sex to men in London and from the perspectives of people who are not engaged with medical, psycho-social, or policing institutions.
My data – if you are a reader who is interested in such things – comes from interviews (semi-structured and sometimes unstructured) with men who sell sex, the advertisements they (often) self-produce and post online or in print, and observations and field notes. This kind of ‘queer ethnography’ has included talking to other workers (sex workers – past and present – and people who provide health or advertising or advocacy services with/to them. What I have is a polytextual dataset with opportunities for triangulation and queer, critical readings of some of the limits of reading texts as representational – never-mind ‘realist’. Key Finding One – sex workers are not some discrete typology of people nor can they be classified into discrete typologies of sex workers. Key Finding Two – sex work advertisements are by definition designed to work performatively – to create a discourse more than reflect reality. Key Finding Three – simplistic binary models of sex/work, need/want, and agency/coercion confound any single definition of ‘sex work’.
Whilst I first set out to contact men through the ads I had seen for so many years, people who were able and willing to talk about their own experiences of selling sex to men soon started to emerge from within my wider social sphere. The sex work that had seemed remote was much closer to my own domain than I’d previously been aware. ‘Degrees of separation’ were torn away like pages. And through the stories of the men I found, the men who found me – and those it turned out I’d already known – I saw and heard the overlaps between narratives of men selling sex to men and other, ‘typical’ narratives of ‘typical’ gay-scene men’s ‘typical’ gay-scene weekends. A new question emerged: how was this experience and representation of sex work so different from so-many queer-men’s experiences of anonymised, casual-sex?
The advertisements and the profiles were revealing in their own ways. Searching back through 20 years of ads I found photos of a few friends and pictures of old friends’ new boyfriends. I also found people like ‘Dev’ who had advertised himself as 24 years old for more than 5 years using a photo that never changed, however his body might or might not have. The ads revealed themselves as co-producing ideas about what is real as much as they do about what sex, masculinity, youth, ‘gay’ and ‘escorting’ look like in London’s queer scene/s. Sex work advertisements are by definition designed to work performatively. The ads are an appellation, a call to potential customers. What they signify is often a mythologised phantasy, a symbolic – rather than literal – depiction of what is possible. With age, for example, when the gap between what is real and what is possible becomes too great, many advertisers stop advertising any number if they don’t stop advertising altogether.
What has emerged from bringing all of my data and findings together is a theoretical model to help people understand the diversity of sex work experiences by understanding the ways different lived experiences relate and interact within a broader narrative of doing sex work. Taking this research forward, I’m looking to test the generalisability of the model. To do that, I need to bring together the expertise of people who have sold sex to advise on the practicality of the model as well as consult others from organisations and the academy about what kinds of data to collect (for example, if we should include standardised ‘instruments’ for a quantitative study) and how to avoid constructing some new form of typology.
We need to keep pushing this research forward. As I stated at the beginning of this piece, there is a growing recognition of the need to provide better information about sex work for professionals who work with people from a broad spectrum of experiences. Sharing stories and texts outside of institutionalised canons is one way to query and queer the inclusion of sex work in forensic psychology, counselling and mental health.
Dr Allan Tyler
London South Bank University