In a shocking revelation, the large majority of interviewed migrant workers in the British sex industry are not forced or trafficked, suggests a report.
The International Union of Sex Workers warmly welcomes the publication of "Migrant Workers in the UK Sex Industry" by Dr. Nick Mai.
This is the largest ever qualitative research into the experience of migrants selling sexual services in London, and reports suggests that immigration status is by far the single most important factor restricting their ability to exercise their rights in their professional and private lives.
The study asserts that working in the sex industry is often a way for migrants to avoid the unrewarding and sometimes exploitative conditions they meet in non-sexual jobs. Also, by working in the sex industry, many interviewees are able to maintain dignified living standards in the UK while dramatically improving the living conditions of their families in the country of origin, it says.
The researchers say the stigmatisation of their work is the main problem interviewees experienced while working in the sex industry and this affected both their private and professional lives. A combination of this stigma and lack of legal immigration documentation makes interviewees more vulnerable to violence and crime.
Interviewees generally describe relations with their employers and clients as characterised by mutual consent and respect, although some reported difficult clients and employers, who were disrespectful, aggressive or abusive.
The impossibility of guaranteeing indefinite leave to remain to victims of trafficking undermines the efforts of the police and other authorities against criminal organisations.
Most interviewees feel that the criminalisation of clients will not stop the sex industry and that it would be pushed underground, making it more difficult for migrants working in the UK sex industry to assert their rights in relation to both clients and employers.
"We will only successfully target trafficking within the sex industry when we make policy based on evidence and in reality. There is currently a climate of fear amongst London sex workers due to police activity, that is driven by hype and misinformation promoted by NGOs with a financial vested interest in the anti-trafficking industry, who are ideologically opposed to commercial sex. It is time to set aside their ideology and emotion, and give people in the sex industry - whether from the UK or migrant - the same human rights and protection of the law as others," said Catherine Stephens of the IUSW in a statement.
Rosie Campbell, a board member of the UK Network of Sex Work Projects, said: "UKNSWP member projects in London see thousands of sex workers a year, and these findings reflect what they see. We welcome this research and hope that local and national government will use it to inform policy. For some time we have been expressing concern about the under-reporting of violent and other crimes committed against sex workers in London. Clearly there is a need for the police to work pro-actively to increase trust and confidence in them amongst sex workers and to ensure they are fulfilling their duty to provide protection to sex workers."