LONDON’S prostitutes in the vast majority have not been forced into the sex industry, according to a new survey to be presented today.
Though human trafficking is a real issue for probably hundreds of migrant women in London, many thousands more are in the sex industry out of choice, a research team at London Metropolitan University has found.
“The perception that the sex industry is connected to international organised crime has raised moral panic about trafficking,” said Dr Nick Mai, the research team’s leader.
“Neither the moral panic, nor legislation brought in to counter trafficking, reflects existing research evidence.”
Mai’s unit reports that 94% of the 100 migrant sex workers interviewed said they had not been coerced into prostitution.
Instead, the majority moved into the sex industry after they had had enough of low-paying jobs such as cleaning and carer work.
“The evidence strongly suggests that current attempts to curb trafficking and exploitation by criminalising clients and closing down commercial sex establishments will not be effective because as a result the sex industry will be pushed further underground,” reads a line from the report.
“People working in it will be further marginalised and vulnerable to exploitation.”
Sex worker organisations welcomed the report, arguing that trafficking is mainly a problem thanks to the illegal status of some immigrants.
“We will only successfully target trafficking within the sex industry when we make policy based on evidence and in reality,” said Catherine Stephens of the International Union of Sex Workers.
“There is currently a climate of fear amongst London sex workers due to police activity that is driven by hype and misinformation.
“It is time to give people in the sex industry – whether from the UK or migrant – the same human rights and protection of the law as others.”
Given its status on the fringes of the law, solid figures for the number of prostitutes working in London are hard to come by, but estimates of 10,000 are common. Of those, 80% are reckoned to be foreign-born. A survey from 2000 suggested that around 10% of men in the UK have paid women for sex.
The sex worker report – In whose name? Migration, Sex Work and Trafficking – is to be presented as part of the Festival of Social Science at LMU today.