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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

Beyond Support 

Beyond Support is a call back service for women who are involved in prostitution and want to explore possible alternatives. They offer a freephone telephone number for those who want help. Please note that this is not a 24/7 crisis helpline. Once a woman has left a voicemail/email, they will return the call. Support via E-mail is also available. More information can also be found on their dedicated website.

Tel: 0800 1337870 (Freephone)

Beyond the Streets, Door of Hope Project

The Door of Hope project offers hope, support and routes out of prostitution for women involved in on-street prostitution in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in east London. Door of Hope’s specialist team support women through a combination of on street outreach and follow up daytime support. Full information on the support Door of Hope can offer, including a referral form can be found on the Beyond the Streets website.

Tel: 0300 3020762
Website: Door of Hope

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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

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