NUM and Leeds University Working Conditions and Job Satisfaction in Sex Work - funded by the Welcome Trust
Below is a brief outline of the Working Conditions and Job Satisfaction in Sex Work Survey, full details are in the downloadable pdf.
This survey was funded by the Wellcome Trust, principal investigator Dr Teela Sanders, University of Leeds with Laura Connelly and Laura Jarvis King. The study was conducted in partnership with the National Ugly Mugs Scheme.
Title: An exploratory pilot study to map the working practices and experiences of sex workers in the UK.
Purpose: The pilot study will aim to capture some core demographic information, as well as ask about issues such as work satisfaction, stigma, isolation, safety, contact with support services and crimes experienced. The survey will be analysed to find basic information from which a larger mixed methods study can be designed to be carried out by Dr Teela Sanders and Professor Jane Scoular, funded by the ESRC starting September 2015.
Timeframe: Ran for 12 weeks from Nov 2014 to the end of Jan 2015
Target population: National Ugly Mugs membership (had to be a member to complete survey). National Ugly Mugs Membership consists of sex workers of all gender identities and working in all sectors with a variety of experiences.
Sample size: 240Sociodemographics of the sample
- 82% female (n = 196), 12% male (n = 28), 5% trans (n = 12) and 1% other.
- Age range 18 - 63.
- 46% defined their sexuality as ‘bi-sexual’.
- Of the 240 respondents, 184 (77%) stated that they did not have children whom they were supporting economically.
- 38% have an undergraduate degree (n = 90), and 17% have a postgraduate qualification (n = 40).
- 109 respondents stated that they do sex work and another job at the same time, representing 45% of all respondents. 106 respondents do not do sex work alongside another job, which represents 44% of all respondents.
- For the majority of respondents (n = 138), sex work is not their only source of income.
- The most common sex market was ‘independent escorting’, with 214 (89%) respondents participating in this type of sex work. The second most common was ‘webcams’ (n = 44), although this represents only 18% of respondents, followed by ‘phonelines’ (n = 30; 13%).
- The most common location for respondents to work was ‘outcalls’, with 157 of the 240 respondents (65%) working in this manner. The second most common location was the home (n = 128; 53%)
- The vast majority (n = 158; 66%) indicated that they are likely to continue working in the same way for the next year.
• More than 97% had either GCSEs, A-levels or their equivalents.
• Ninety of those surveyed had an undergraduate degree (38%), 40 (17%) had a postgraduate degree.
• 172 (71%) had previously worked in health, social care, education, childcare or charities.
• The second most common former area of employment was retail, with 81 people (33.7%) having worked in the industry.
- Job Satisfaction:
- Levels of job satisfaction are high. When asked to describe their work, respondents typically selected positive or neutral words. 91% of sex workers described their work as ‘flexible’ and 66% described it as ‘fun’. Over half of respondents find their job ‘rewarding’, 'skilful', 'sociable' and 'empowering'.
- On the other hand, relatively few used negative descriptors for their work: only 15% found their job 'dehumanising' and 14% see their work as 'exploitative'. Over half (n = 126; 52%) stated that they did feel able to stop sex working if they so wished. Just under a quarter of respondents (n = 57; 24%), however, indicted that they did not feel able to stop sex working.
- Sex workers were asked to comment in their own words the three things they enjoyed most and least about their work the said the following:
- Financial aspect.
- Flexible working hours.
- The choice and freedom they have in their decisions around when, where and how to sell sex.
- Time-wasting clients.
- Stigma and negative attitudes to sex work.
- Dangers / violence.
- 71% of respondents experience stigma, at least ‘sometimes’, during the course of their sex working.
- This stigma most commonly results in sex workers having to pretend or lie about their job and live in fear of being recognised.
- It was also identified that stigma impacts on relationships with family and potential romantic relationships.
- Crime / violence:
- Levels of concern around crime vary considerably but 49% are either ‘fairly worried’ or ‘very worried’.
- Almost half of respondents (47%) have been victims of crime during the course of their sex working.
- Most commonly this manifests in the form of threatening or harassing texts, calls and emails and verbal abuse, with 36% and 30% of respondents experiencing these forms of victimisation, respectively.
- Other forms of violence such as rape, physical assault and robbery were experienced but less common. As research evidence already suggests, indoor sex workers generally experience less violence compared to street based sex workers.
- Almost half of respondents (49%) were either ‘unconfident’ or ‘very unconfident’ that police would take their reports of crime seriously.
- Respondents believe that the main way their safety could be improved is through legalising or decriminalising the sex industry; 42% of respondents suggested these policy changes as ways to improve safety.
The remit of the research?
We mainly focused on working conditions and job satisfaction, also looking at the safety of sex working. We hoped to get a real picture of the working conditions for sex workers who use the Internet in the UK in order to further build knowledge about how sex workers engage with their work in the context of the rest of the lives, work histories and current regulatory context. Rather than making assumptions about sex workers’ working conditions or judgments based on a particular ideological narrative, it’s important that we ask sex workers.
Recommendations in the light of these findings?
The findings provide further evidence that a move towards the ‘Swedish Model’ would be detrimental to sex worker’s safety. We would recommend that sex workers be allowed to legally work together, as this is the main way in which they believe their safety will be enhanced. Societal attitudes need to change, in order to minimise the stigma underpinning sex work and consequently reduce the harm that prejudice and judgement has on sex workers. Policy with decriminalisation as its focus, ought to be recommended to improve relationships with police by removing threats of enforcement and channel resources into exploitative situations.
Although the sample is large is it skewed towards the more 'empowered' sex workers?
The majority of respondents (89%) are indeed working in the independent escorting sector. Based on all the research in the field, it is estimated that around 70% of sex workers are indoor workers so it's certainly more representative than many studies that are used to reflect sex work as a whole. We’d also caution against uncritically assuming that this group is more ‘empowered’. While in many ways this group treats selling sex as work it is clear that current policy is actually disempowering and maintains the stigma they experience. A move towards decriminalisation would help to alleviate this.
Many studies focus primarily on female street sex workers or sex workers accessing health and social care support services, despite street sex workers only representing a minority of the overall sex worker population. This study focuses on a much broader representation of sex workers. The proportion of respondents that were female (82%) is also more representative of the wider sex worker population and estimates of the gender breakdown.
This survey is not skewed against those who are unhappy with sex work but reflects a range of views, mostly from the independent escort sector, the largest sector in the UK.
Dr Teela Sanders, principal researcher on this study, said: “This research focuses on working conditions for sex workers and the degree of job satisfaction sex workers have. It also looks at the safety of sex working. We hope to get a real picture of working conditions for sex workers of all gender identities working throughout the UK. Around 70% of sex workers in the UK are indoor workers so this study is more representative than many others that are used to reflect sex work as a whole. Sex workers from across the board were invited to respond. Many of those who did were doing escort work but we did get a minority of responses from sex workers working in other parts of the sex industry.”