Statement in support of women involved in prostitution as they take on the Government’s criminal records scheme in Court

By The Sex Work Research Hub

The Sex Work Research Hub send our support to the women challenging the law that requires people to disclose criminal convictions for prostitution. Our members are part of a long history of research dedicated to challenging the criminalisation of sex workers and those who are sexually exploited – it is wrong that sex workers, former sex workers and those who are sexually exploited, should be penalised and stigmatised in this way. The criminalisation of all sex workers should therefore end. The current law on brothel keeping also means sex-workers can be too afraid of prosecution to work together at the same premises, which can often compromise their safety. There must be zero tolerance of the criminal exploitation of young people and sex workers, and changes to legislation should not lessen the Home Office’s ability to prosecute those engaged in exploitation.

Sex, Work, Law & Society Update & Call for Abstracts, 2018

By Raven Bowen

The Sex, Work, Law and Society Collaborative Research Network (CRN #6) held its inaugural sessions at the annual Law and Society Conference in Mexico City June 20-23rd 2017. CRN #6 was the brainchild of Menaka Raguparan, a PhD Candidate at Carlton University in Ottawa. Coordinators include: Prof. Chris Bruckert University of Ottawa; Raven Bowen PhD Candidate, University of York (UK); Dr. Tuulia Law Sessional Assistant Professor, York University, Toronto; and joining us this year, Dr. Tamara O’Doherty  Lecturer, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver. We would like to thank our respective Departments for supporting our attendance and coordination.

The June conference comprised seven sessions, with sex work researchers from around the world presenting on migration, trafficking, regulation, the experiences of third parties, tropes, and the political economy. In additional to the enlightening presentations, we hosted a dinner with special guests representing Casa Xochiquetzal, a home for active and former elderly sex workers. With the generous donations from CRN attendees, we contributed 14,516.91 pesos to support the work of this tenacious sex worker organization. Please view the event Storify for pictures and conference tweets.



LSA Annual Conference will be held in Toronto, Canada, June 7-10 2018

The theme of the 2018 meeting is Law at the Crossroads/ Le droit à la croisée des chemins. As such, we interpret the meeting theme as an opportunity to explore issues such as: law as both a tool of oppression and as a tool to challenge oppression and how sex workers and allies navigate this field; the growth of critical legal studies and the resulting recognition of law as inherently political rather than a neutral abstract notion of justice; the rise of nationalist and populist powers and their effects on marginalized groups, including but not limited to sex workers, who have seen their human rights gains rolled back or threatened; the limitations of law where public opinion or political will is resistant to reform or supportive of harmful laws; the use of evidence in law and the challenges that arise with increased use of social science evidence and experts in courts; the politicized, rather than empirical, basis for law and the resulting quandary for the sex workers’ rights movement in seeking labour and human rights through legal mechanisms; the ethics of engagement with law, a primary tool and feature of colonization, where decolonization and Indigenization are goals; the recognition of the violence of law, or the limitations/failures of legal institutions and the need for fundamental institutional change; new directions for sex workers, allies and the movement, given the current legal and political landscape.

We invite scholarly presentations relating to the overall conference theme, our CRN’s aims and scope, or the following keywords (primary key word should be Sex, Work, Law and Society, secondary key words should come from the following list): 

Access to Justice
Citizenship, Migration, and Refugee Studies
Class and Inequality
Economic and Social Rights
Economy, Business and Society
Gender and Sexuality
Labor and Employment
Policing, Law Enforcement
Race and Ethnicity
Race, Critical Race Research
Regulation, Reform, and Governance
Rights and Identities
Social Movements, Social Issues, and Legal Mobilization
Social Networks, Personal Relationships

Law and Society requires a 200-250-word abstract to be submitted for conference presentation vetting. The deadline for submission is THURSDAY OCTOBER 12TH 2017 5PM EST OR 10PM BST.

All proposals for paper presentations, panel (salon) sessions, roundtable discussions and Author meets Reader sessions will be accepted through LSA’s automated submission system. You can find more details about the automated submission system here

If you are already planning a LSA session with at least four panellists (and papers) that you would like to see included in the Sex, Work, Law and Society CRN 6, please contact Menaka at Tweet using #LS2018_sexwork

Please note that everyone attending the meeting is expected to register. Only those who register will be included on the official LSA-RCSL Joint Meeting Program (online and printed), or be allowed to present papers, or attend presentations and other functions. You do not have to be a member of LSA or any of the co-sponsoring organizations to participate in the meeting generally.

21 Questions with Matt Valentine-Chase Licensed Professional Therapist, Sex Coach and Healer

By Raven R. Bowen


Q: So, what do you do?

A: Well, I might sound like a ‘Jack of all trades’ but I usually have three jobs on the go at any one time so at the moment I’m a sex coach qualified in therapy, so I’m basically a therapist who coaches, which is slightly different from a coach. I’m also a research assistant with Beyond the Gaze and I’m doing a mainstream job [in the private sector]. I’m a former escort and that informs my sex coaching.

Q: And your favorite color?
A: Orange. It’s weird because I don’t look good in orange but I just like the color!

Q: What are you most proud of?

A: Oh that’s easy! I’m most proud of the length of time I spent in the adult industry and the way that I developed the job and how I’ve overcome some of the pitfalls. I think it’s a difficult job to do because there is not much professional development (so far as the industry is concerned), so to do it well I used some of my professional training to kind of inform my self-awareness. So, if I was off with my boundaries for example I would change things. I turned my sex work into more of a healing experience for the client and that also helped my business. I hope that by incorporating the therapeutic element I have contributed to changing the image of the industry. Sex workers, whether they are qualified therapists or not are doing this healing work in my opinion and they don’t get enough credit for it.

Q: What drew you to the sex industry?

A: Well it chose me! I go into a stereotype here but I think most people who will read this will understand. I was in a desperate situation when I first started. I had friends telling me to be a model because I was quite good looking back then, but I thought that was kind of boring. So I looked at escort agencies, back in the day of print press and so I did it and didn’t enjoy it at first because of my internalized whoreaphobia. I worked through that, because I was working in a brothel and I started at the bottom of the industry, and I worked my way up and turned it into a career.

Q: The last thing you laughed about?

A: I laugh at the most inappropriate moments. When I meditate, it makes me giggle because it opens my heart, so it’s a strange response but I giggled during my meditation this morning.

Q: What’s your favorite food?

A: Steak, chips, garden peas, garlic mushrooms. It’s not right if it doesn’t have garlic mushrooms!

Q: Your current project or pursuit?

A: I have a lot of links in the industry and industry-related projects especially to do with sex and disability because this is one of my passions. A current project is that I’m a Trustee for The Outsiders Trust and they are a social and dating group for people with disabilities. So, it’s basically about helping disabled people to have fulfilling sexual and social lives just like everybody else. We’re launching an online sex school for disabled people very soon. Stay tuned.

Q: What’s your biggest regret?

A:  I would love to be one of those enlightened people who have no regrets but I have so many! My biggest regret…that there were issues that I had with my mom many years ago and although I resolved them with her before she died, I didn’t do it soon enough. I wish I had faced that a little bit sooner but she had a beautiful death and there was nothing left unsaid.

Q: Facebook or Twitter?

A: Facebook for friends and Twitter for work. I have a love/hate relationship with both because they’re addictive and they can be shallow places. I also use Facebook Messenger for work.

Q: What challenges you the most about your sex work and related work?

A: What challenges me the most is giving up sex work. I’m retired but there is a sense of guilt at letting down clients who’ve been with me for a very long time. I know that’s my stuff but at the same time I have a massive passion and respect for the profession and a lot of clients do too. With the coaching, the challenge is I feel very respected among sex industry people but I don’t feel very respected by other therapists because people don’t seem to understand how my sex work has informed my therapeutic training and the coaching that I do. I think the two together are just fantastic because I haven’t learned these skills from a book. When I tell a coaching client what to do – I know it works.

Q: Favorite Movie?

A:  I, Tina “What’s love got to do with it” The true life story of Tina Turner. I’ve probably seen that movie 200 times!

Q: And the last time you cried?

A: This morning. I usually cry to something pretty much every day. Sometimes they are happy tears, sometimes frustration.

Q: Cat or dog person?

A: Dog, definitely dog! Cats as so selfish!

Q: Who understands you?

A: My spiritual teacher understands me but as far as my friends are concerned, I have a core group of fantastic friends so I would say that they understand me but I must say I’m quite complex … so it’s a big job to understand me!

Q: What’s the last book or article you read?

A: Well it was several hundred pages, but the Beyond the Gaze research findings.  Q: You’re going for brownie points now! A: Yes I am. It was exhausting but I had a sense of achievement in doing it I have to say!

Q: Childhood Fear?
A: The dark. It was not helped by my mom telling me that the bogey man lived in the outside toilet. So I’d have to go outside to the loo and it was dark and the bogey man lived there! I’m not sure why there was no light…we were poor.

Q: What did your last text say?

A: ‘That’s my favorite position.’ Q: I’m afraid to ask… A: Yes, someone was suggesting something! Q: Clearly, moving on then…

Q: One thing that your work or existence is aimed to do for the sex industry?

A: To mainstream it. That’s my big goal because you do that through education and that will eliminate stigma.

Q: The meaning of life in one word?

A: Love, kindness and non-conformity. Do you see what I did there? Q: Yeah, you gave me three words! How’s one. A: Okay non-conformity.

Q: The last thing you Googled?

A:Sex coaching London’, because I was checking my search term ranking! Pretty good.  

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?

A: Everything! That’s it. I want to be everything, and I want to do everything from my bucket list, singing lessons, DJ courses, you name it. I used to work for a radio station and I’m missing it.

Is sex work still the most dangerous profession? The data suggests so

By Teela Sanders & Lucy Platt

Romina Kalachi, a 32-year-old woman, was stabbed to death in her own home on May 29, 2017. She was killed in her flat in Kilburn, London and is the latest known sex worker to be murdered in the UK.

In 2007, Hilary Kinnell wrote a book chapter, Murder Made Easy, followed by her important book Violence and Sex Work in Britain, an accumulation of research and practice-based knowledge about the extent of violent crimes and homicides against sex workers in the UK. She reported comprehensively the nature of violence against sex workers, who the perpetrators were and heavily criticised the legal context in which sex workers worked.

A decade on, the reality is that those working in the commercial sex industry likely remain the most at risk of violent crime.

As part of a Wellcome Trust funded project reviewing the occupational risks of sex workers compared to those in other “risky” professions, my colleagues Dr Lucy Platt, Stewart Cunningham, Pippa Grenfell and Dr PG Macioti and I analysed a database of sex worker homicides in the UK between 1990 and 2016. The data are curated by National Ugly Mugs, a reporting mechanism for crimes against sex workers. In the absence of a comprehensive police database, we believe that it may be the most accurate existing resource for understanding these extreme crimes. Of the 180 victims in the database, we classified 110 as known occupational homicide cases – that is to say, they were murdered while engaging in sex work.

We found that women accounted for the clear majority of victims (105), with only two male and three trans victims. Overall, the vast majority of victims (85) were also street-based sex workers.

This trend remained consistent during the decades 1990-1999 and 2000-2009 even when total number of reported homicides nearly doubled (from 28 between 1990-1999 to 50 in 2000-2010), reflecting the increased vulnerability of street-based sex workers.

Recent trends:

Since 2011, proportionally more indoor sex workers have been murdered (ten, or 59%) than street-based sex workers (seven, or 41%) – and the majority of murdered indoor workers were working alone. This is likely to be because most sex work now happens indoors as street markets have declined and the internet has become the preferred place for advertising and marketing. It may also be the case that working alone indoors presents greater risks.

Overall, the numbers killed whilst working in the current decade (2011-2016) is suggesting a decreasing trend with 18 homicides (16 of them cisgender women victims) compared to other decades. Since 2011, there has been a significant shift to indoor working only, and different forms of online sex work, such as webcamming, that do not require physical contact. There were also fewer serial killer murders reported than in the previous decade.

The static nature of murders so far this decade reflects the overall homicide rate in the England and Wales which been stable for a similar period – ranging from 533 to 574 recorded murders a year, apart from a spike in 2015-16 when the number rose to 723.

Our other key finding is that the proportion of homicide victims with a migrant background has increased in recent years. In the 20 years between 1990 and 2009, only 6% (five individuals) of sex work occupational homicide victims (where nationality/migration status is known) were migrants, compared to 94% (77) who were British born. Since 2010, however, the proportion of migrant victims has dramatically increased with eight of the last 18 victims coming from a migrant background.

This may reflect changes in the overall makeup of the sex industry, with increasing numbers of migrant workers working in it, and/or suggest that offenders are specifically targeting migrants because of their potentially increased vulnerability.

One positive finding was that the solve rate for sex worker occupational homicide improved substantially in the 2000s. Since 2006, all 34 occupational homicide cases were solved with the offender in question convicted and given lengthy and sometimes multiple life sentences.

But there should be no perpetrators to sentence. These homicide patterns must be considered against the broader evidence of how the justice system in the UK (and other jurisdictions) increases the risks and vulnerabilities faced by those involved in the sex industry. Laws that make involvement in the sex industry criminalised means that safety can never be prioritised.

Where a legal system stigmatises, marginalises and pushes into the shadows those in the industry, sex workers are made vulnerable by their treatment as partial citizens. Hate crimes against sex workers are prevalent on an everyday basis through physical attacks, online abuse and harassment, largely because sex workers are not treated as equal citizens worthy of the same protection and rights as those working in other professions.

Policing strategies also have to be scrutinised when we question why sex workers are considered “easy targets” who will not report crimes against them. It is clear that for both street and indoor sex workers, enforcement led policing creates barriers to reporting crime and the law offering adequate protection.

Without legal reform, which moves on from the simple ideology that “prostitution is wrong” and towards a legal and policy framework which addresses the practicalities of sexual labour in the 21st century, such tragedies will continue to occur.

[This piece originally appeared in The Conversation]

Queer Muslim Sex Worker: a documentary

Queer Muslim Sex Worker is a groundbreaking podcast documentary about the real life of a young, genderfluid Londoner.

Through a series of interviews across a year of Maryam’s life, the podcast tells her real story as she speaks candidly about her gender, sexuality, Muslim identity, and demonstrates on-air how she interacts with clients via online messaging for sex work.

Maryam (not her real name) is from London, of Pakistani heritage and is highly involved in her local mosque.

Through the 42-minute podcast, listeners will follow Maryam’s incredible true story as she navigates her identities, meets new clients, and comes out as queer.

The podcast looks at how Maryam’s identities intersect and shape who she is, while letting Maryam tell her story in her own words.

“I’m from an immigrant, Pakistani, Muslim family. I am a queer, gender fluid sex worker who’s currently in a relationship with a woman and I am very involved with my mosque life,” Maryam says in the podcast.

“I will think sometimes, this is f***ing insane – half an hour ago I was scissoring my girlfriend, and the next minute I’m at the mosque translating a religious sermon against gay marriage.”

An independently-funded project, the podcast is produced and presented by journalist Amy Ashenden (formerly LGBTQ Correspondent at the Evening Standard, now Senior Video Reporter at the Mirror Online), who produced the viral documentary The Gay Word in 2015.

Producer and presenter Amy Ashenden said: “This podcast tells such a unique story, I’m really excited for its release.

“The interviews took place across a year so you’ll see how much Maryam’s life and identity change over the course of the documentary.

“Maryam’s story is extraordinary but it’s also her real, everyday life, and she tells it so candidly and articulately in a way I’ve never come across before. I hope people can learn a lot from her story and that it will make listeners rethink what it means to be queer or Muslim.

“I was very careful to ensure the documentary took an intersectional approach and that Maryam was telling her story in her own words and not misrepresented. I wanted to avoid simplifying the narrative or putting her into boxes, as that would erase the fascinating intersections of her identity. Retaining Maryam’s anonymity was also really important.”

The documentary is available with RSS so subscribe now wherever you listen to podcasts, including iTunes, audioBoom and TuneIn. Why not leave a review on iTunes? You can also follow Queer Podcasts on Twitter.

Many thanks to Amy Ashenden for this post!

Erotic Performance and Spectatorship: New Frontiers in Erotic Dance

by Katy Pilcher

Erotic dance is one of the most contentious issues in feminist debates today and a source of fascination in media representations, yet little is known about those who perform erotic dance for women customers, or the experiences of these spectators themselves. Through vivid ethnographies of a lesbian leisure venue and a male strip show, Erotic Performance and Spectatorship examines the gender and sexual politics of erotic dance, simultaneously relating these to debates about sex work more widely. Drawing on insights gleaned through participant observation within erotic dance spaces; interviews with dancers, customers and management; together with a photo-elicitation venture with a dancer, this book subverts previous assumptions that only women perform erotic dance and only men spectate, and develops the debate beyond assumptions that erotic dance is either straightforwardly degrading or empowering.

Through the voices of dancers and customers, together with my own reflections on participating in strip venues, this book provides a distinctive view on issues including the politics of looking and being watched; the aesthetic, emotional and body work of erotic dance; questions of power; and the embodied experiences of dancers and customers in these spaces. I draw out some of the key and the ‘queer’ moments that I perceive to be central to dancers’ and customers’ experiences within non-conventional erotic dance spaces, as well as being the moments through which we can think about the contestability of normative power relations. I make links between participants’ definitions of both venues as in some senses representing ‘women’s spaces’, and the tensions with this notion; the complex ways in which customers and dancers negotiate the dynamics of looking and being watched through critically engaging with conceptions of a sexual ‘gaze’; and how the particular venues that dancers work within is crucial to their ability to be able to experience autonomy through their work role. I highlight how people with erotic dance spaces challenge and negotiate heteronormative gender and sexual power relations, and what this indicates for the theorising of gender and sexual power relations more broadly.

The book includes reflections on the sensory experiences of researching erotic leisure venues, and includes anecdotes of encounters during the research process that have influenced the conclusions drawn. I comment upon the status of ‘sex work research’ within and outside the academy and the impact upon researchers who may be stigmatised (Hammond and Kingston, 2014), or considered to be doing ‘dirty’ (Irvine, 2014) or ‘morally’ tainted research. Theorised through a feminist and queer lens, overall, I argue that people’s engagement with erotic dance as both performers and customers is complex, and the book highlights the pleasures and the politics of participating in erotic dance spaces.

If you would like to review this book for an academic journal (and receive a free copy) please contact Katy to arrange this on It can be purchased at a discount using code FLR40 on the Routledge website.

Ad Men: Queer ethnography research with men selling sex to men through advertisements

By Allan Tyler

This spring, a chapter I have written about sex work appears in a book called – rather provocatively – Mad or Bad?:  A Critical Approach to Counselling and Forensic Psychology (Vossler, Havard, Pike, Barker & Raabe, 2017). The book itself aims to deal with some of the topics that have been stigmatised and/or have remained unfamiliar to counsellors, forensic psychologists, and other helping professionals in the past. Importantly, sex and sexuality are addressed critically from a number of standpoints. My contribution aims to examine a diversity of experiences selling sex and challenge assumptions about sex work, including why and how sex work is framed in contexts of mental health and crime.

A bit about me: I didn’t start out as a sex work researcher and came into the field rather naively. Very naively. Until 2007, almost all of my (professional) research was related to body image and commercial applications of how our clothing fits. But none of us are Just Workers, and part of my own story was my migration from farm-country Canada and my concomitant migration into big-city London’s queer scene/s in the early-to-mid 90s. What I had observed and learned about men’s bodies and how gay and bi men used their bodies was another education entirely. After more than a dozen years of reading magazines with columns (and then pages) of ads placed by men labelled ‘Escorts’ and ‘Masseurs’, it was those experiences – or lack thereof – that prompted me to ask the rather loose question, ‘What exactly is going on here?’

My approach into sex work research through queer-scene advertising seems sideways by colleagues whose professional experiences are policing, psychology, or indeed sex work itself. But as the adage goes, ‘What makes you different makes you beautiful,’ and the opportunity I had was a unique approach to a phenomenon which is simultaneously remote  yet familiar – remote from many people’s personal experiences but familiar in repertoires of sexuality, moral education and portrayals of violence in the media. My opportunity has been to approach sex work from perspectives of men who sell sex to men in London and from the perspectives of people who are not engaged with medical, psycho-social, or policing institutions.

My data – if you are a reader who is interested in such things – comes from interviews (semi-structured and sometimes unstructured) with men who sell sex, the advertisements they (often) self-produce and post online or in print, and observations and field notes. This kind of ‘queer ethnography’ has included talking to other workers (sex workers – past and present – and people who provide health or advertising or advocacy services with/to them. What I have is a polytextual dataset with opportunities for triangulation and queer, critical readings of some of the limits of reading texts as representational – never-mind ‘realist’. Key Finding One – sex workers are not some discrete typology of people nor can they be classified into discrete typologies of sex workers.  Key Finding Two – sex work advertisements are by definition designed to work performatively – to create a discourse more than reflect reality.  Key Finding Three – simplistic binary models of sex/work, need/want, and agency/coercion confound any single definition of ‘sex work’.

Whilst I first set out to contact men through the ads I had seen for so many years, people who were able and willing to talk about their own experiences of selling sex to men soon started to emerge from within my wider social sphere. The sex work that had seemed remote was much closer to my own domain than I’d previously been aware. ‘Degrees of separation’ were torn away like pages. And through the stories of the men I found, the men who found me – and those it turned out I’d already known – I saw and heard the overlaps between narratives of men selling sex to men and other, ‘typical’ narratives of ‘typical’ gay-scene men’s ‘typical’ gay-scene weekends. A new question emerged: how was this experience and representation of sex work so different from so-many queer-men’s experiences of anonymised, casual-sex?

The advertisements and the profiles were revealing in their own ways. Searching back through 20 years of ads I found photos of a few friends and pictures of old friends’ new boyfriends. I also found people like ‘Dev’ who had advertised himself as 24 years old for more than 5 years using a photo that never changed, however his body might or might not have. The ads revealed themselves as co-producing ideas about what is real as much as they do about what sex, masculinity, youth, ‘gay’ and ‘escorting’ look like in London’s queer scene/s. Sex work advertisements are by definition designed to work performatively.  The ads are an appellation, a call to potential customers. What they signify is often a mythologised phantasy, a symbolic – rather than literal – depiction of what is possible. With age, for example, when the gap between what is real and what is possible becomes too great, many advertisers stop advertising any number if they don’t stop advertising altogether.

What has emerged from bringing all of my data and findings together is a theoretical model to help people understand the diversity of sex work experiences by understanding the ways different lived experiences relate and interact within a broader narrative of doing sex work. Taking this research forward, I’m looking to test the generalisability of the model. To do that, I need to bring together the expertise of people who have sold sex to advise on the practicality of the model as well as consult others from organisations and the academy about what kinds of data to collect (for example, if we should include standardised ‘instruments’ for a quantitative study) and how to avoid constructing some new form of typology.

We need to keep pushing this research forward. As I stated at the beginning of this piece, there is a growing recognition of the need to provide better information about sex work for professionals who work with people from a broad spectrum of experiences. Sharing stories and texts outside of institutionalised canons is one way to query and queer the inclusion of sex work in forensic psychology, counselling and mental health.

Dr Allan Tyler

London South Bank University


Beyond the Gaze

By Teela Sanders, Jane Scoular, Rosie Campbell, Jane Pitcher & Stewart Cunningham

The Beyond the Gaze project reaches it’s half way point (ends sept 2018) and has collected a monumental amount of data. We have a customer survey of over 1300 respondents and also a survey on sex workers that work online with over 600 responses. This, in addition to interviews with 60 sex workers, over 55 police informants and a survey of support projects, explores working practices, safety and regulation within the online sector. Rosie continues to take forward the netreach activities with Basis Yorkshire and develop good practice guidelines & safety info with NUM, sex worker advisers and our practitioners forum. There will be dissemination events in 2018 which will be widely advertised.