Home / blog / How much do you know about the UK sex industry? – PART 2

How much do you know about the UK sex industry? – PART 2

I think I promised you an interview, didn’t I? 🙂

I thought I would look into a Brighton and Hove based charity, with 20+ years’ experience in providing support to women.

Name: Oasis Project – registered charity number 1065503
Place and date of birth: Brighton, 1997
Job: Support women and their families who are affected by drugs or alcohol
Special skills: Launched a specialist services for sex workers (SWOP) in 2001
Interviewee: Mel, employed at Oasis for almost 20 years

Can you please tell me briefly what SWOP is?

“Our Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) is open to all sex workers, with or without a drug or alcohol problem. Our objective is to promote and improve the health, safety and wellbeing of women who sex work. We also aim to offer a service that is non-judgemental, accessible and trans inclusive.”

What does SWOP offer to the sex work industry?

“We recognise that women working in the sex industry can be in extremely diverse situations, and have different reasons for working in the sex industry and support needs. We therefore offer a tailored service according to individual needs (whether someone enjoys their work and plans to work in the sex industry for the foreseeable future, or whether someone feels sex work is not out of choice and would like support to leave). We offer a service that ranges from brief information and advice around issues such as sexual health, personal safety, signposting to other local or national services, to more in depth support for anyone in crisis. We can offer support to those who experienced any form of violence or abuse, or those who are in a difficult situation and need help to make changes. Our service is open to all self-identifying women who sex work, who either live or work in Brighton and Hove area.”

We mentioned earlier that SWOP support women with a substance abuse problem, what if they don’t?

You don’t have to have a drug or alcohol problem to use SWOP. But in being based in a gender-specific substance misuse service, we are able to offer advice and support into treatment if a woman is experiencing problems with drugs or alcohol.”

How large is the sex workers community?

“Any data on numbers of sex workers is problematic. There is no way of really knowing as some people put out multiple advertising under different profiles, some people dip in and out of sex work. There is now a vast array of advertising platforms and social media options.”

Did you know?

Shall we talk numbers? Well, I would say mostly guesswork… Between 2009 and 2015, various authorities, NGOs, and research estimated something like 70-100k of people are engaged in prostitution in the UK (more stats available on wiki).

What category does a sex worker falls in for tax purposes? Are they self-employed?

“Anyone, whatever their income source, is expected by law to pay tax on their income –and indeed many sex workers do. however, UK law is very confusing in terms of the sex industry, which means many people do not even realise they can register as self employed and both pay tax and claim tax relief. For some, the stigma around sex work can mean being worried that it may lead to prosecution; this, in turn, may lead to exposure to family / friends / media, and therefore are reluctant to register. For those who are homeless and are selling sexual services to fund drug use, or even experiencing exploitation, this is simply not an option.”

How has the government supported the industry during the pandemic? 

“As far as I am aware there has been no government guidance for the sex industry.”

Where can sex workers find (if any) guidance and regulations?

Together with National Ugly Mugs, SWARM, and other sex worker projects, we have offered COVID-19 related harm-minimisation advice and support to those who are providing in-person services. During lockdown, our priority was to ensure that we did as much as possible to minimise harm; this translated into offering increase choices and options, such as advice to register for Universal Credit, access food parcels, the SWARM hardship fund, etc. Additionally to this, we took steps to ensure that those worried about missed rent-payments were also aware about the previous eviction ban, and where to access specialist advice. For those who needed to continue with in-person services, we have offered 1:1 advice on how to minimise risk from contracting or passing on COVID-19.”

How has this affected the life of the sex worker?

Many people were left in a very difficult position during lockdown, with no alternative source of income. For a whole range of reasons, many people were not able to access benefits / grants that were available to those registered as self-employed. Some have increased their digital presence or switched to cam work – but this isn’t a suitable option for everyone.”

Are dominatrix and fin-dommes are part of this category? Can they also get support?

“As a service, we are flexible as to the definition of sex worker. We don’t assume direct sexual contact, and don’t assume that transactional sex will always involve money. We recognise that all forms of sex work can come with some level of stigma, which in turn means that many may feel reluctant to engage with mainstream services or get support from friends or family if a problem arises (e.g. online abuse, stalking, harassment, health-related issues, general wellbeing, relationships, etc.). Our service aims to help bridge that gap. We also support people who make a living from Sugar dating, and currently looking at development of resources / improving accessibility to this group of people.”

Are there other associations in the UK with similar focus and objectives?

“Yes there are a number of organisations who recognise the diversity of the sex industry offer a wide range of support to sex workers across the UK, below are some examples, but we also work in partnership with Terrence Higgins Trust, a charity that run a number of projects with a specifically sexual health focus across the UK.

Sex work charities

So what now? Well, now I could keep talking about the sex work industry for another hour, but don’t worry, I won’t.

2020 has been tough year, tougher for some, and the sex industry has pretty much had to come to a halt due to COVID-19 (more in this article and this article). Because of it, I would like to ask you to make a small donation to any of the aforementioned charities, anything that you can spare, even if it’s just £1.

If donation is not your thing, support your local sex worker and art performer on Only Fans (I am sure you have heard of it by now, and if you haven’t, I highly recommend a read to this article by the New York Times, thou I might be writing about it in more details at some point in the future). It’s a small way to contribute to the an industry which had to pivot to digital in order to (barely) survive, please donate, subscribe, and sponsor!