- Start date: 1 October 2017
- End date: 31 December 2023
- Principal investigator: Dr Lilith Brouwers
Sex work is legal to do in England, but only in isolation: management, co-working for safety, and providing many services to sex workers are criminalised. However, sex worker rights organisations state that this criminalisation reduces sex workers’ safety, forces them to work alone, and prevents them from accessing workers’ rights and workplace protections.
This is an extension of Lilith Brouwers’ PhD research project – “I feel safe when I'm working with her": Sex workers' experiences of management and wider work relationships” – which was started after NGOs and grassroots organisations flagged a large research gap on third parties in sex work - a topic that is legislated without underlying data.
This extension is supported by the Leeds University Business School Impact and Engagement Support fund.
This project was developed in close cooperation with grassroots organisations working in the field. This research involved a survey of 185 full-service sex workers in England, surveying their use of third parties in their work, their experiences with third parties, and their views on how to make work with third parties safer and better.
It also involved an in-depth investigation of the legal status of a range of third parties, as well as the effect of this criminalisation on sex workers themselves.
The current impact phase of the project includes the publication of a report of the findings, a closed in-person pre-launch event, and a public online report launch.
- Full-service sex work is legal to do in England, but only in isolation. Management, co-working for safety, letting out premises, and providing many other non-managerial services to sex workers are criminalised.
- The most commonly encountered third parties as reported by participants are not managers. Instead, the most common third party are other sex workers themselves – mainly in the role of colleagues.
- Sex workers have a mix of experiences with third parties: positive, negative, and neutral. However, participants describe more positive experiences with non-managerial third parties (colleagues, receptionists, cleaners etc.), and more negative experiences with managers.
- Like in many other forms of informal work, third parties are often friends or partners.
- Sex workers very commonly leave unsatisfactory work situations and workplaces, either to work in a different workplace, or to work independently.
- Sex workers freely and commonly move from one mode of sex work to another, depending on their circumstances and needs. For instance, they move from agency work to independent work, or from work in premises to street-based work.
- Many sex workers are unclear on the legal status of third parties, and legislation criminalising third parties is interpreted and policed vastly different by different police forces.
- Many participants feel forced to choose between working alone and without support, or risking prosecution for themselves or any third parties they work with.
- The criminalisation of third parties and workplaces reduces sex workers’ access to labour rights, to workplaces with good management practices, to cooperatives and worker-managed workplaces, and to the police and the justice system.
- Sex workers argue for legal change to the status of criminalised third parties in order to improve their working conditions and relationships with them.
Confirmed attendants of the in-person and online events include representatives of policymakers, Amnesty International, the European Sex Workers’ Rights Alliance, several NHS/health projects, and a range of charities, NGOs, and grassroots organisations from Europe, the UK and Ireland. The event is hosted by the English Collective of Prostitutes.
London pre-launch event for NGOs and grassroots organisations – July 18th 2023
Online report launch – July 19th 2023
Publications and outputs
- Report - Sex workers' experiences of third parties, Dr Lilith Brouwers, July 2023