Register for the PG Sex Work Research Conference!

Come along to the 2018 Annual Sex Work Research Hub Postgraduate Sex Work Conference. It will take place at Northumbria University in Newcastle. The event will feature postgraduate students talking about their research on sex work and will feature a keynote talk by the academic and Whores of Yore blogger Kate Lister. It is free to attend and has a free lunch. Yes, a free lunch.

We will post full details of the line up soon.

The conference is open to all postgraduate research students, early stage researchers, research active practitioners, sex workers and Sex Work Research Hub members. To attend, please book your free ticket using Eventbrite.

If you have an dietary requirements (for the lunch) or any access requirements, please email Ian Cook at


The UK Sex Worker Homicide Database: An Analysis

By Stewart Cunningham, Teela Sanders, Lucy Platt, Pippa Grenfell, PG Macioti

As part of a Wellcome Trust funded project on ‘reviewing the occupational risks of sex workers in comparison to other ‘risky’ professions: mental ill-health, violence and murder’ we undertook analysis of a database of sex worker homicide in the UK between 1990 – 2016.  While we cannot say with certainty that the database constitutes a record of absolutely all sex worker homicide in the UK we believe that it may be the most accurate existing resource on the subject given its proximity to the sex worker community and those with on the ground knowledge (it is currently held by National Ugly Mugs and was previously updated by Hilary Kinnell and then Shelly Stoops on behalf of UKNSWP).

We decided to classify the homicides based on whether the victim was killed in the course of work to better identify instances of occupational or work-related homicide. The database records 180 sex worker homicides between 1990 and 2016 and of these we classified 110 victims as being killed in the course of work, 37 of the homicides as being non-work related and in 33 of the cases we were unable to classify based on a lack of information.  We conducted more detailed analysis on the 110 cases of known occupational homicide.

Cis-gendered women represented the vast majority of victims (n=105) of occupational homicide with two cis-gendered male victims and three trans women victims.  The vast majority of homicide victims were street based sex workers (n=85) with a smaller number (n=24) of victims who worked indoors (work setting not known for one victim).  The trends around work sector have, however, changed quite dramatically since 2010.  Between 1990 and 1999, 85% (n=28) of sex work occupational homicide was committed against street based sex workers.  The overall numbers of homicides increased significantly in 2000 to 2009 but the percentage of street based victims remained the same at 85% (n=50).  Between 2010 and 2016, however, this pattern has reversed and there are now more indoor sex workers killed (59%, n=10) than street based sex workers (41%, n=7).  This could, in part, reflect the changing working practices for sex workers with the rise of internet facilitated indoor working resulting in a significant decline in street based sex working.

The vast majority of victims (where ethnicity and nationality were known, n=100) were of white British ethnicity (n=77, 77%) with white Eastern European victims the next largest group (n=9, 9%).  There were smaller numbers of mixed race (n=6), Black (n=5) and Asian (n=2) victims of various national identities.  The proportion of homicide victims that have a migration background has increased in recent years.  In the 20 years between 1990 and 1999 only 6% (n=5) of sex work occupational homicide victims (where nationality/migration status is known) were migrants compared to 94% (n=77) who were British born. Since 2010 the proportion of migrant victims has dramatically increased to 50% (n=8), exactly the same number of British born victims.  This may be reflective of changes in the overall makeup of the sex industry with increasing numbers of migrant workers and/or suggest that offenders are specifically targeting migrants because of their potentially increased vulnerability.

The solve rate for sex worker occupational homicide improved substantially in the 2000s and since 2006 every single case has been solved with the offender convicted.  It is also important to note that this current decade has the lowest number of sex worker homicides on record since the database was created.  Between 2010 and 2016, 27 sex workers were murdered in total (17 while working) compared to 91 (60 while working) in 2000 – 2009 and 62 (33 while working) in 1990 – 1999.

Analysis of the homicide database shows changing trends in sex worker homicide with victims now being more likely to work indoors than on the street and also increasing numbers of migrant sex worker being targeted.  Future research on sex worker homicide must consider the social and legal contexts in which sex work takes place and how this may impact on vulnerability to homicide.  Legal change though cannot occur in isolation and much has to be done to challenge and counter the, still pervasive, stigma that exists against sex workers, making them so vulnerable to all forms of violence, including homicide.  Only with a combination of anti-stigma work alongside meaningful legal and policy change that prioritizes sex worker safety can there be any hope of addressing the tragedy of sex worker homicide

The briefing papers can be found here:


An Open Letter to the Mother of a Sex Worker – The Spared Conversation

By Anonymous

Dear Mum,

You do not know this and you probably never will, but I am a sex worker. Men and sometimes women pay to have sex with me. Most would call me a prostitute, but calling me a prostitute is the real immorality in my choice to sell sex. It is a word that means I should be ashamed, a word that robs me of my rationality, a word that infers that you did not provide for me and failed as a mother. Well you did not. I am not ashamed of what I do and the choices I have made. I enjoy selling sex and I have made a rational, well thought out, individual, eye-opening, intelligent choice. Large sections of society lambast the choice I have made. My sanity, my intelligence, and the love I have for myself, my self-respect, my childhood, and my dignity is consistently, called into question and contested. If you knew what I did, you would probably be disappointed in me and feel like you have failed at parenting me. I do not want to put you in that position so I will probably never tell you. Coming to terms with my life as a sex worker would most likely cause you to battle emotionally over the love you feel for me with the disappointment and shame replacing it. I do not feel shame, but I do not want to put you in that position. You raised me to respect others, so I respect you enough to spare you this struggle.

You should know that it is because you raised me with positive values that I made this choice. You taught me to care for myself, so I know how to respect my body. I own it, and I decide how I will share it. You taught me to have a good work ethic, so I know how to take my job seriously and professionally. I am dedicated to providing a good service and enlightened enough to know my own boundaries. You taught me to strive to be the best I can be, so I take joy in knowing that I am good at having sex for money and I enjoy providing this service. You taught me to care for others and to help people whenever I can. I know therefore how to remain non-judgmental with clients of all body shapes and sizes, or with clients who have specific sexual interests, or those who wish to share with me their daily struggles. You taught me to be compassionate at all times and to appreciate positive relationships, so I know how to provide a caring service to my clients whilst never feeling that I have compromised my self-integrity. You taught me to do the things I love most in life and be proud of them, so that is exactly what I do.

You gave me the most amazing gift as a parent: you empowered me with the knowledge that I could make my own decisions as long as I was happy with them. It is because of you that I was able to make this choice by being informed, sensible, and fulfilled.

‘Decriminalising sex work is the only way to ensure sex workers have access to justice – and New Zealand has proved that it works’

by Lynzi Armstrong

This article also appeared in The Independent

Sex work laws are currently under debate in several parts of the world, and there are divergent views regarding which approach best protects sex worker’s rights and supports their access to justice.

While some advocate for a legislative framework which would criminalise clients of sex workers, sex worker-led organisations disagree, arguing that this approach places sex workers in danger. Instead, they are calling for decriminalisation – an approach which has been in place in New Zealand since 2003. However, myths abound regarding New Zealand’s model, including unsubstantiated claims that the sex industry has expanded, that pimps are emboldened, and that trafficking is rife.  But, what do we really know about New Zealand’s policy of decriminalisation and how it impacts sex workers?

The passing of the Prostitution Reform Act followed years of work by New Zealand’s sex worker organisation – the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective. The purpose was to minimise harm, and so the law change not only removed legislation which criminalised sex work, but also afforded rights to sex workers.

Decriminalisation in New Zealand differs from legalised regimes such as Germany, since it focuses on empowering sex workers – rather than the state – to have greater control over their work. This approach recognises that sex workers are best-placed to advise on their own working conditions, and to enable this there must be a transparent environment in which sex workers can report adverse experiences – without risking themselves, or their clients being criminalised.

A requirement of the law change was that research be undertaken in the years following, to evaluate the impacts. This research, completed by researchers from the University of Otago’s Christchurch School of Medicine, highlighted many benefits. For instance – over 60 percent of 772 sex worker participants reported feeling more able to refuse to see certain clients. Furthermore, 95 percent reported feeling that they had rights after decriminalisation. These rights mean the balance of power has shifted, and sex workers can more easily hold to account those who seek to exploit them.

The powerful impact of these rights is well-illustrated by a 2014 case in which a sex worker pursued a case through the Human Rights Tribunal against a brothel operator who had sexually harassed her. She won the case and was awarded $25,000 in compensation.

Decriminalisation – of both the sale and purchase of sex – is incredibly important for enabling access to justice when crimes are perpetrated against sex workers. While earlier research indicated that some sex workers were still reluctant to report violence to the police, a later study conducted with street-based sex workers indicated significant positive change in relationships between police and sex workers. This research also demonstrated how decriminalisation supports sex worker’s safety strategies – enabling street workers to take their time in initial conversations with clients, without risking their clients being arrested, and losing income as a result.

Decriminalisation also means that clients can provide information to police when sex workers are assaulted. A woman I interviewed in 2009 was assisted by a client to contact police after she was attacked by a passerby.

As for trafficking – while there is evidence of trafficking into other industries, there is currently no evidence that trafficking into sex work is a problem in New Zealand, nor is there evidence that the size of the sex industry has increased since decriminalisation. In fact, research suggests that decriminalisation has had little impact on the sex worker population.

To make policy that truly benefits sex workers we must separate myths from facts, and despite oft repeated claims of its shortcomings, the evidence clearly supports the New Zealand model as an ideal starting point. While no law is perfect, this is the best approach for supporting sex worker rights and facilitating access to justice – there is no alternative worth pursuing.