Bad housing, poor support and even boredom are some reasons stopping women quitting or ‘transitioning out of’ sex work, a new study reveals.
Lacking something meaningful to do is a major barrier to women looking to leave street sex work, according to researchers from Brunel University London.
Street sex workers in Tower Hamlets and Islington spoke about life before and after deciding to quit the profession for The U-Turn Women’s Project study.
“Boredom was seen as one of the key reasons for some women involved in sex work to be on the street,” said Dr Monica Degen, Lecturer in Sociology, who led the project with Sue Buckingham, visiting Professor at Cambridge University.
“They really want help to engage in meaningful activities such as training or activities that provide positivity in a sea of negativity.”
Until now, little was known about street workers’ everyday lives and needs. The study aims to uncover what helps women live safer lives or ‘transition out of street sex work’ – a move that takes most women seven years to make.
Women credited support workers for non-judgemental practical and emotional help. But services that were quick to judge and with high staff turnovers were damaging, they said.
“I was surprised what low self-esteem some had, and how stigmatised they were by some of the statutory services there to support them,” said Dr Degen. “They are often viewed as drug users, rather than people with an array of complex problems.”
Other findings were housing policy changes causing many to feel locked into hostel accommodation long term and huge variations in Local Authorities’ responses and provision of services.
The report, Women Involved in Street Work in the UK makes a string of recommendations including:
- Decriminalising women involved in street sex work
- Specialised police to establish of trust and protect them as citizens
- Ensuring continuity of care
- Stronger local partnerships between voluntary and statutory-sector support
“Sex work has been overly glamourised through films and books,” said Dr Degen. “But the reality is far from glamorous and indeed, very dangerous. I want people to stop stigmatising sex workers and the Government to decriminalise women involved in street sex work.”