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  1. ITV Report

What is the future of sex work in the UK?

"It's a human right to be safe. So me as a sex worker, why am I not entitled to that?"

Charlotte Rose, like many others in her profession, is calling for sex work law reform in the UK because she fears for her safety.

While it's not against the law to buy or sell sex in England, Scotland and Wales, pretty much everything around it is illegal, like soliciting in a public place, curb crawling, or running a brothel.

"For me as somebody who tours for sex work, when I go to a new area, it's preferable for me to have somebody there with me for safety," Charlotte told ITV News.

"And the minute I do that, I'm breaking the law, which means I could be penalised."

Charlotte Rose wants to see a change in sex work laws. Credit: ITV News

In the past Charlotte’s clients have taken advantage of this law - robbing her and a fellow sex worker - knowing that they couldn’t report the crime.

Because they had been working in a pair and in the eyes of the law, this classified them as a brothel.

But Charlotte doesn’t work on the streets; her clients find her on online.

The expansion of the internet has changed the sex industry, allowing new ways to advertise - like Smooci, a booking platform for escorts, which launched earlier this year.

"Prior to Smooci being available, there would be more use of things like dating apps and other online platforms that did not necessarily promote either safety or trust for both the client and genuine users," Smooci representative Sarah Ryland told ITV News.

Smooci representative Sarah Ryland denied the app was encouraging prostitution. Credit: ITV News

"So both parties benefit from being able to maintain their own privacy, but at the same time ensure that everything that's done is done with integrity and is done in a way that means that everybody involved is happy, safe and respected."

Platforms like Smooci are legal, but is new tech like this facilitating a new generation of sex workers and influencing people who may have never considered the profession before?

Ms Ryland said: "I don't think it would necessarily encourage anybody, but I think that it would allow people the freedom to make their own choices."

The new platforms emerge amid demands to reform current sex work laws for the almost 73,000 sex workers in the UK.

What that might look like is up for debate.

Sex work laws vary around the world. But one system being recommended by a group of campaigners and cross-party MPs is the Nordic Model, which was first adopted in Sweden.

The Nordic Model has been adopted by Ireland and Northern Ireland. Credit: ITV News

The model makes paying for sex services illegal rather than selling them, making the client the criminal and not the sex worker.

It has recently been adopted by both Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Nordic Model Now! campaigner Helen McDonald told ITV News: "The Nordic model doesn't look to criminalise those people who feel that they have no other option other than to sell sex. What it's looking to do is send out a really clear message that prostitution is not a solution to poverty."

But countries who have adopted the Nordic Model have had reports of increased assaults on sex workers, because clients who are now being criminalised are putting pressure on sex workers to put themselves in more risky situations.

"In France where the law was introduced, they've seen big increases in violence against sex workers," English Collective of Prostitutes spokesperson Laura Watson told ITV News.

Laura Watson from the English Collective of Prostitutes warns against the Nordic Model. Credit: ITV News

"And the same in Ireland as well, where the law has also been introduced. So we are absolutely against any moves to introduce it here."

The English Collective of Prostitutes is a campaign group who want to see sex work fully decriminalised.

They said they have seen a massive increase in people turning to them for help because of poverty.

They want the so-called New Zealand model introduced. It decriminalised sex work in 2003.

New Zealand decriminalised sex work in 2003. Credit: ITV News

Antonia Murphy runs The Bach, a legal brothel in New Zealand.

She told ITV News: "The business that we run is an ethical brothel or an ethical escort agency. And what that means is that consent is at the core of our business.

"So ladies only work when they want. They only take the jobs they want to take.

Antonia Murphy says workers at her brothel in New Zealand are protected. Credit: ITV News

"We tell them as much as possible about the clients they're going to see and they have control from start to finish. They can withdraw consent at any time."

Follow up studies in New Zealand found that after the decriminalisation, prostitution had not increased in the country.

There are those who worry that decriminalisation will lead to sex trafficking.

But sex work and sex trafficking are two separate issues.

The only designated red light area in England is in Leeds. Credit: ITV News

Reports have found that the vast majority in the industry are there consensually.

But not all sex workers are there out of choice, but necessity.

There is one designated red light area in England, Holbeck industrial zone in Leeds, but most street solicitation is prohibited.

One group of residents in Ilford, east London, who have witnessed the rise of people turning to prostitution, have had enough of seeing it on their doorstep.

Ilford residents have campaigned for existing laws to be enforced in their neighbourhood. Credit: ITV News

"For the last few years we've seen a massive increase in the prostitution issue on Ilford lane," a resident who asked to be named as Halee told ITV News.

"It's been really sad because it's a family residential area. A lot of people here have young children."

But Halee and her neighbours aren’t calling for a change in the law.

"The law is fine," she said. "It doesn't need to be changed, but it needs to be enforced and it shouldn't take a massive campaign or a whole load of residents taking their time out of their daily routines to get people to do the job that they're being paid to do it. It's just not ok."

The Home Office says sex work is one of the most complex and rapidly changing issues in the country.

While they’re still building a picture of what this industry looks like, they plan on putting safeguarding and reducing harm at the heart of their response to the issue and ensuring those who want to exit the industry, have the means to do so.

Charlotte Rose says she enjoys working as a prostitute.

But she recognises the industry is full of people who don’t feel they have a choice.

Charlotte Rose said those working in the sex industry need to be protected. Credit: ITV News

"The majority of people that have to work are single mothers and they're doing this work to be able to provide for their children," she said.

"Single mothers and any other person who enters the sex industry deserve the same right to be safe, just like anybody else. And the law as it stands, really puts us in danger.

"Safety comes first. We're human at the end of the day, please don't dehumanise those. Let us have the same rights to be safe at work just like you."