Largest study of UK online sex work highlights income, diversity, job satisfaction and challenges faced by workforce

Posted by ap507 at Jan 23, 2018 12:17 AM |
‘Beyond the Gaze’ research by Universities of Leicester and Strathclyde looks ‘behind the screen’ at the working conditions, safety & policing of online sex work

Issued by University of Leicester on 23 January

“There is little research about online sex work despite it being the largest sector of the UK sex industry. We’ve carried out a significant study examining how online and digital technology has reshaped the sex industry, working practices, safety issues for workers and how the police and other authorities have responded. We’re really excited to publish our findings and we hope they will make a contribution to informing policy, practice, law and wider public education. Evidence based policy is important in an area where stereotypes abound and stigma silences many working in the industry” - (Professor Teela Sanders, Principal Investigator, University of Leicester)

Further information about the key findings and recommendations is available here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/54yt4v458ooxpc8/AACBNuSbMHsYls2PDRxTnBEZa?dl=0

Researchers with expertise in studying the sex industry from the Universities of Leicester and Strathclyde have carried out the largest study to date of UK online sex work, examining the working conditions, safety and policing of the industry.

The project, titled ‘Beyond the Gaze’, is the first UK-wide study to examine current policing of internet based sex work and highlights how approaches to policing online sex work markets is still in its infancy for many forces, with only a small amount carrying out wider work to increase online sex worker confidence to report crime.

The research, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, shows that online sex markets have been pervasive since 2000 and available evidence indicates that the online sector is the largest sector of the UK sex industry – although it is difficult to map/quantify.

The findings show that while the majority of police are aware that sex markets have changed, detailed knowledge of the nature and extent of these changes was variable.

The study included the largest online surveys carried of sex workers (641) of all genders and their clients (1323), a survey of support projects and interviews with sex workers, police officers from sixteen forces, managers or moderators of online advertising platforms/ forums/safety schemes for sex workers and mapping online spaces where sex workers market and/or provide services.

Key findings of the report include:

  • Online & digital technologies have reshaped sexual commerce
  • The diversity of sex workers using the internet in their work – 73% were women, 19% male, 3%  transgender and 3% non-binary or intersex
  • The majority of sex workers who took part in the study worked in independent indoor sectors, such as escorts, webcam workers, phone sex and BDSM service providers
  • Online and digital technology has facilitated more mobile and fluid forms of sex work across different jobs/services within the online sector
  • The maximum number of sex work jobs worked in was nine, with the average (mean) number of sectors being two
  • Study highlights the need to make a distinction between the use of temporary premises by independent workers and their use in circumstances which involve, trafficking, slavery and coercion
  • The majority were self-employed sole traders who worked alone (72%)
  • Just over half  (51.9%) had gross annual earnings of less than £20,000 from sex work, only 10.1% earned £50,000 or more annually, earnings largely reflected working hours
  • The internet is of significant importance to sex workers in different aspects of their work including: developing services; enabling independent working; and giving greater control over working circumstances
  • Sex workers reported high levels of job satisfaction, the ability to take decisions about different aspects of their work was linked to this
  • 81% said the internet provided access to sex worker networks and peer support, with social media and messaging apps playing an important role
  • Online and digital technologies had improved safety strategies for 85% of sex workers in the survey
  • Nearly half had privacy concerns, with fears of being ‘outed’ and stigma detracting from job satisfaction
  • A majority, 81%, had experienced at least one form of work-related crime, with high levels of digitally facilitated crime reported
  • Current policy and law is focused primarily on areas such as trafficking/modern slavery or child sexual exploitation, and based on certain conceptions of vulnerability, which fail to reflect diversity in the sex industry

Note: BtG is not a study of modern slavery and trafficking within the online adult sex work sector nor is it a study estimating the size of the online sex work sector generally or the percentage of those within who are victims of modern slavery or who are coerced.

Further information about the key findings and recommendations is available here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/54yt4v458ooxpc8/AACBNuSbMHsYls2PDRxTnBEZa?dl=0

During 2018 the team will carry out further dissemination and publish a range of practical resources based on the findings.

Professor Teela Sanders, Principal Investigator on the Beyond the Gaze project from the University of Leicester, said: “There is little research about online sex work despite it being the largest sector of the UK sex industry.

“We’ve carried out a significant study examining how online and digital technology has reshaped the sex industry, working practices, safety issues for workers and how the police and other authorities have responded. We’re really excited to publish our findings and we hope they will make a contribution to informing policy, practice, law and wider public education.

“Evidence based policy is important in an area where stereotypes abound and stigma silences many working in the industry.”

Recommendations from the study have been made to police forces, practitioners and health commissioners, policy makers and researchers, highlighting how online sex work is a growing sector which is underexplored and often misunderstood.

Professor Sanders added: “Current laws and continued structurally embedded stigmatisation of sex work means that many online sex workers remain invisible behind the screen, denied access to full labour rights, full citizenship and access to social justice, pushed increasingly by current laws to work behind the screen.”

In relation to policing, Professor Jane Scoular, co-investigator from the University of Strathclyde, commented: “These fast-moving and hidden markets are a challenge to both the rationale and tactics of traditional policing where the focus  has been on public nuisance and in more recent times on trafficking and modern slavery. The current legal framework is not sufficiently agile to encompass the complexities of sex work, which includes elements of consensual (though unregulated) work nor is it well suited to recognising and responding to the abuses and range of exploitation evident in the online sex markets, resulting in actual harms being ignored. These injustices are only exacerbated if policies and practices of policing do not better align with the realities of sex markets that we highlight.”

Dr Rosie Campbell OBE, principal researcher on the project, comments: “Our work with sex workers and practitioners shows that health services, outreach and other projects working with sex workers,  should ensure their provisions are accessible to online sex workers, provide appropriate provisions which meet their needs and also recognize and promote  peer support networks and sex worker inclusion initiatives.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

 

For more information contact Professor Teela Sanders from the University of Leicester on email tlms1@le.ac.uk

 

About the ESRC:

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government.

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