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vawgWhat is prostitution?

Prostitution, which is sometimes called sex work, is the exchange of sex for money or goods when the person selling is aged 18 and over. If they are under 18, then it should always be considered child sexual exploitation (CSE)

Is prostitution illegal?

Prostitution is not a crime in itself but there are a number of offences related to it, including:

  • soliciting
  • kerb crawling
  • owning or running a brothel
  • ‘Pimping’ someone (forcing them into prostitution)
  • procuring (this includes forcing someone into sexual exploitation through trafficking or operating a prostitution business).

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Why is prostitution a VAWG strand?

Prostitution is dangerous and unhealthy. Individuals involved in prostitution are often extremely vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Research has shown that many are poor, homeless and have already suffered violence and abuse throughout their life.

  • 85 per cent of women involved in prostitution report a history of physical abuse
  • 45 per cent of women report childhood sexual abuse
  • It is estimated that as many as 95 per cent involved in prostitution have a drug or alcohol addiction.
  • Those involved in prostitution are likely to be at increased risk of violent and abusive behaviour
  • Three quarters of women involved in prostitution in the UK have been physically assaulted
  • More than half of women involved in prostitution in the UK have been raped and/or seriously sexually assaulted

Women may be coerced into prostitution by pimps or traffickers. A 2010 report into the nature and scale of trafficking of migrant women in the UK estimated that of the 75,000 migrant women thought to be involved in off-street prostitution in the UK, 2600 have been trafficked into the UK. There is also a key concern that research has identified that between 50 per cent – 76 per cent of women involved in prostitution started before the age of 21, depending on the study, outlining the need to identify prostitution and correspondingly child sexual exploitation as a child protection issue.

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What are the risk factors for prostitution?

There are a number of key risk factors which research and practice have identified for individuals involved in prostitution:

  • experience of violence in the home
  • truancy or exclusion from school (combined with poor educational attainment)
  • running away
  • experience of living in care
  • homelessness or insecure housing
  • problematic drugs or alcohol misuse
  • debt.

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Why do women not just exit prostitution?

Barriers to exiting prostitution

Bindel et al (2012) have identified that there are 9 key barriers for individuals exiting prostitution which are all linked to the risk factors and resultant key concerns:

  • problematic drug use
  • problems with housing
  • physical and mental health problems
  • having had experiences of violence as a child
  • criminalisation
  • the role of money (debts or having a large disposable income)
  • experiencing coercion to remain in prostitution
  • lack of qualifications or training
  • entering prostitution at a young age.

All of these factors mean that women engaged in prostitution find it extremely difficult to exit prostitution and need specialist support to ensure that their physical and health needs are met first.

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Support services

If you are in immediate risk call 999 or 112 (from a mobile) for the Police


Open Doors

Open Doors are a pro-active clinical and case management outreach service for sex workers, part of Homerton University Hospital NHS. They provide an outreach service to sex workers who work on the streets in flats, saunas and brothels. They manage specialist clinics and drop in centres for sex workers where they can access support and advice around health, safety, substance misuse, homelessness, benefits, immigration, legal matters, police, courts, fines, debt, domestic violence, coercion, trafficking, children and families, hot showers, food etc.

Within Tower Hamlets, Open Doors runs a case management service which works closely with women to address their needs and support them. They also run a drop-in session in Bethnal Green for any sex workers to access.

Jacqueline Vennard also offers support to women as an Independent Sexual Violence Advocate (ISVA). Jacqueline supports individuals working in the sex industry that have experienced sexual violence or rape.

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ISVA role:

  • To alleviate fears of reporting and seeking support from Police and Rape referral centres
  • To inform victims of the forensic and criminal investigation process
  • To increase reporting of sexual violence as well as to increase criminal convictions
  • Reduce the anxiety of reporting, and going to court
  • To offer a non-judgemental support pathway for individuals to safely stay in the criminal justice system
  • To support individuals overcome barriers that may prevent them from reporting or seeking support
  • To support those not wanting to report
  • To be a channel of communication for the client between services such as the Police/Havens/other identified support services

Intervention and support available:

  • Explanation of Criminal Justice System, Police & Forensic medical process
  • Access to Health Services, GP, Gum, Counselling
  • Substance Misuse
  • Homelessness/Safe accommodation
  • Financial difficulties
  • Benefits
  • Outstanding warrants
  • No Recourse to Public Funds
  • Immigration & Legal Services
  • Children & Family services
  • Domestic Violence

Contact details:

Jacqueline Vennard

Mobile: 07852 918 404
Office Tel: 020 7683 4601

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Ugly Mugs

This national scheme is for all individuals involved in prostitution.  Those involved can sign up to receive warnings about individuals who may be a threat to them. If someone is a victim of a crime then they can report this and the information will be used to warn other individuals involved in prostitution.  If consent is given then Ugly Mugs will pass information (without any personal details) to police intelligence to help bring criminals to justice.

You can join to get alerts and make reports online.


U Turn Women’s Project

Night time outreach and daytime centre for women involved in prostitution

Tel: 020 7739 2950

Rio (Project Director) Tel: 07980 548 532
Website: U Turn Women's Project


Door of Hope

Provide outreach to individual’s involved in prostitution

Tel: 020 7729 7982
Address: The Door of Hope, The Tab Centre, Godfrey's Place, London, E2 7NT

Website: Door of Hope.

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