National Ugly Mugs co-operated with the research team in providing statistics during the course of data collection for the report from the University of Bristol on the Nature and Prevalence of Sex Work in England and Wales, commissioned by the Home Office. Individuals from NUM’s membership, staff and R&D teams participated in individual interviews, the survey and provided oral evidence in focus groups across the UK. We are happy to see NUM members cited in the report and support their comments, particularly about how the current legislative framework reduces their safety and access to social and police protections.
This study reaffirms the breadth of the sex industries that NUM provides services to, and the diverse ways with which people identify with, participate in and experience sex work. Individuals engage in sex work for money as we know, and in the report participants identified as being at risk of violence from ‘clients, police and ‘civilians’ (Hester, Mulvihill, Matolcsi et al., 2019, pg. 19) which is reflected in NUM’s data since it was set up in 2012. The specialised harm-reduction and safety responses required for those working in different settings across industries that NUM along with sex workers, worker-led organisations, the Sex Work Research Hub (SWRH) scholars and many practitioners have been advocating for may become clearer to those who gain new insights as a result of reading this report.
For NUM, this study echoes descriptions of working conditions, themes and issues found in our data that we have been responding to since our inception. Furthermore, the report identifies the dangerous relationship between poverty and criminalisation as highlighted in the ECP Press Release and the SWARM Statement and subsequent media.
Ultimately, this report may provide a useful starting point for those researching the sex industry in the UK. It appears to include broader themes related to sex and society, such as sex parties and events, ‘dogging’ and other activities that may not be part of the exchange of sexual services for money or goods; however, it captures the diversity of forms that sex work can take, and the rapidly-changing nature of the industry. Many of the findings corroborate those from the DWP’s Universal Credit and Survival Sex Inquiry Report (Oct 2019).
We must now act on the knowledge that we have garnered through decades of sex workers’ generously sharing their life circumstances with us through reports of violence, private and public testimony at inquiries, and their participation in a wide range of research studies and media. We recognise and commend the labour of all workers who have contributed to this, and other, government inquiries, and we must respect this knowledge by acting to improve upon the issues they have raised.
We must work across sectors to level the playing field by increasing resources to those who have been made poorer through austerity and other government policies; address the feminisation of poverty and how this manifests in the lives of women and children; review income supports such at Universal Credit; reduce the costs of higher education; eliminate poverty, food insecurity and homelessness, among many other measures that will create systemic change in our society.
Furthermore, we must decriminalise the activities and practices that make sex work safer; follow up the reports of crime that come into NUM every day; and ensure that sex workers are equipped with the rights and the respect they are due to engage and transition out of sex work as they see fit.
We now recommend that the Home Office work with sex workers and their support organisations to determine priorities and develop a strategic plan for implementation of remedies that we can collectively improve.