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Migrant Workers in the UK Sex Industry

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Migrant Workers in the UK Sex Industry is the study done by the Institute for the Study of European Transformation at London Metropolitan Univeristy, with Dr. Nick Mai as the Senior Research Officer in the Migration and Immigration of that institute playing the lead role in the research. ISET is an interdisciplinary team researching social, economic, cultural, and political transformations in contemporary Europe.

Research consisted of interviews of 100 sex workers in London (with selected interviews in Sheffield and Liverpool) who were migrants from other countries, and analysing those interviews to extrapolate statistics of the migrant sex industry in UK as the whole.

Findings

  • Sex industry is not a monolithic entity
    • There exists wide variety of the trajectories people enter the sex industry
    • There is a great heterogeneity of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds of sex workers
    • Prior work experiences range from none to having a range of skilled jobs
      • Many have had skilled jobs in the countries of origin, but were unable to capitalise on that due to immigration restrictions
  • The majority of the migrant workers in the UK sex industry were not forced or trafficked
  • Immigration status plays the biggest role in the ability to chose work
  • The stigmatisation of sex work is the main problem sex workers experienced, with much negative impact
  • The combination of two: stigmatisation and lack of legal immigration status, puts sex workers at greatest risk
  • Relationships between sex workers and clients are described as generally characterised by mutual consent and respect, although some have reported abusive clients
    • All were able to tell the difference between respectful and abusive clients
  • Most interviewees feel that the criminalisation of clients will not stop the sex industry
    • Most feel that it will make it more difficult to assert their own rights as workers in relation to clients and employers
  • All interviewees throught that legalising sex work and the people involved and making it easier to all migrants to become and remain documented would improve their living and working conditions and enable them to exercise their rights more fully

Break-up of interviewed persons

Sex and gender break-up

  • 67 female‑born women
  • 24 male‑born men
  • 9 transgender persons
    • 1 female‑born man
    • 6 male‑born women (plus one male‑born man who is working as a transwoman)
    • 1 intersex person

Victims of sex trafficing

Sex trafficing victims were purposefully oversampled, that means that beyond a few that were encountered through the random choice, the researchers went through the police to get information of more individuals of this category. In total 15 out of 100 were placed in that category one way or another. Some individuals have been trafficked in the past, and were currently working in the sex industry without such abuse. All could see the difference between exploitative and non‑exploitative sex work. Some individuals were in the exploitative work outside of sex industry, and have entered the sex industry to escape the exploitation found elsewhere.

Only a minority of victims of sex trafficing were unaware that they were going to sell sex. Majority of those trafficked knew that they were entering the sex industry, but were cheated when it came to working conditions.

Funding of research

This project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) (RES-062-0137)

Policy implications

As suggested within the study

Directly quoted from the Migrant Workers in the UK Sex Industry, First Findings pamphlet
  • make it easier for migrants to become and remain documented;
  • allow the sex industry to operate legally;
  • guarantee victims of trafficking the certainty of obtaining undetermined leave to remain in the UK, regardless of their ability or choice to denounce their exploiters and to co‑operate usefully with the authorities; and
  • provide victims of trafficking with adequate long-term support and protection to successfully integrate within the UK society or, if they so wish, in their countries of origin.

Additional social implications

These are not approved by the researchers
  • Organisations working to stop sexual abuse need to recognise the demands for criminalisation of any segments of sex industry as discriminatory
    • This does not mean that these views should be disallowed from being voiced, but they should only be voiced if the group has no-censorship policy when it comes to other forms of discrimination
  • Organisations working for the worker rights should acknowledge the plight of sex workers and treat them accordingly

See also

Contact information

  • n.mai@londonmet.ac.uk — Dr. Nick Mai
  • iset@londonmet.ac.uk — ISET
  • 020 7133 2927 — ISET

External links