Escorting in the UK: The Laws & Dangers
The escort industry within the UK is growing. It’s a lucrative trade, one which can see workers earn a high amount of money. However, the current legislation and laws can arguably be seen as doing little to protect workers. Additionally, escorts face often violent situations and terrible stigma, which contributes to the danger of the profession.
The term ‘escort’ can conjure up a variety of perceptions, ranging from a strong, independent female, in charge of their own destiny and money, to a desperate woman forced into the trade due to extreme circumstances (such as homelessness or drug use). In the below study, we examine the current UK laws for the industry and how they contribute towards the stigma and danger escorts have to deal with daily.
The Law in the UK
While it’s generally assumed that legalities regarding escorts and prostitution are set in stone, the law in the UK is somewhat of a grey area. Prostitution is, in fact, legal when it’s referring to exchanging sexual activities for money. You are permitted to sell sex and pay for it, although if you live in Northern Ireland, this does not apply. Where it’s illegal, however, refers to the acts of finding and approaching clients in the street, owning and running a brothel, along with pimping. It’s illegal in the UK to:
• Kerb crawl
• Rent or allow a property to use as a brothel
• Use force, threats, deception and other types of coercion to exploit someone who is selling sexual services
• Traffic workers to or around the UK
• Advertise in phone boxes
Despite the strict laws regarding the above illegal activities, the treatment and stigma British sex workers face can be very different from those escorts receive in countries where the law is more relaxed.
In contrast to prostitution, where a sex worker sells sexual activities, escorting can be viewed differently. The majority of escort agencies work tirelessly to protect their workers, by implementing solutions such as vetting clients and allowing them to make appointments with specific employees. This provides protection as the agency is aware of where the escort is, and who they are with. However, a number do not protect their workers and do take a high cut of the workers' profits.
The statistics for escorting in London, in particular, may be surprising. The United Kingdom is a hub for escort agencies in Europe. A staggering 96% of women entered the escort industry by choice, which may dispel common myths that escorts turn to the trade due to desperation. The escort industry does contribute an incredible £5.3 billion to the UK economy, and despite what may be believed, only 20% of clients use an escort service for overnight.
How the Laws Can Cause Dangerous Situations
Unfortunately, while laws are built to protect those in the escort industry, this is not always the case. The illegality of brothels, for example, can put workers at risk, simply because they don’t have a safe space to conduct their business. This led to workers setting up their own brothels in 2018; it is illegal, but it promoted safety and inclusivity within the industry. The advantages of sex workers creating pop-up brothels include the fact that the workers keep all of their profits. A report collated by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee in 2016 highlighted the vulnerability the workers in the trade often face due to stricter laws than more accepting countries, such as Netherlands. Stated in the report was the statistic that, between the years of 1990 and 2016, the murder of sex workers continues at “an alarming rate.” At the time the report was released, 152 sex workers had been murdered. Many workers report facing violence and crime from clients, and a 2014 report by APPG (All-Party Parliamentary Groups) ‘Shifting the Burden’ referred to the violence as “near pandemic levels of violence experienced by women.” This report also highlighted that “the most visible – women who sell sex - are targeted (sic: by the law), while the men who create the demand often walk away, without taking responsibility for the damage they do.” The current laws regarding the sex industry fail to protect the vulnerable, can be confusing, and it does not promote the need to report violent instances suffered by the vulnerable to the police – primarily because the worker is, very often, criminalised while the perpetrator is not.
How Escorts Are Perceived
The ambiguous law in the UK may state certain practices are legal, one issue escorts face is the stigma and treatment. The way escorts are perceived within the UK, while it is changing, can be negative and surrounded by common myths. One such myth which needs busting is certainly the reasons which lead to workers entering the trade, but it also applies to working conditions,personal situations and how the police in particular deal with violence and abuse escorts face.
• The Difference in Treatment
The treatment escorts face within the UK can vary; from respect to abuse and all in between. It’s also subject to exploitation and trafficking, both of which are illegal practices. However, due to the treatment escorts face by the police force, seeking retribution is often ignored. Niki Adams, English Collective of Prostitutes, states that women, who have tried to report an attack have come under investigation themselves.What’s more, the APPG report found that coercion is too difficult to prove within the UK system, meaning the treatment faced by escorts is set to continue until the laws change.
• The Difference in Stigma
One common misperception of escorting in the UK is the fact that the (mainly women) workers are expected to exchange sexual activities with a client for money. While, of course, sexual activity may play a part in some services, this is not always the case. Escort services can range from paid dates to overnight stays. However, the stigma can be difficult to dispel, which leads to escorts keeping their profession a secret. By changing the laws, workers can work towards challenging the stigma and, more importantly, changing the stigma for good.
The sex industry within the UK is a booming industry, one which contributes billions to the economy. However, the current laws make it a hard to police trade, with workers facing terrible treatment, stigma, abuse, and in some cases, lose their life. To protect and create a safe environment, the legislation needs to adapt and change to take into account vulnerable workers, as well as ensuring perpetrators are dealt with swiftly.