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vawgWhat is prostitution?

Prostitution is the exchange of sex for money, goods or shelter. If the person is under 18, then this is child sexual exploitation (CSE). Prostitution is considered as a form of sexual exploitation within Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG), due to its gendered nature. There have been many high-profile cases of serial killers who target women involved in prostitution. Women involved in prostitution are often targets for physical and sexual attacks, including rape and are 12 times more likely to be killed than a woman not involved in prostitution. This is why we do no refer to prostitution as ‘sex work’. Prostitution can happen ‘on-street’ or ‘off-street’, which includes brothels.

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.

 Please see our directory of support services, who are here help victims or survivors of abuse.

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