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In fact, when you ask sex workers about their job satisfaction and working conditions — as a study led by Leeds University just has — the majority of them are happy. When asked to describe their work, respondents typically selected positive or neutral words. The headlines today have focused on the findings that the majority of the sex workers who responded to the survey had worked in other jobs, particularly in social and healthcare professions, and were well-educated.
But this came as no real surprise to other sex workers or experts in the field, who are well aware that the common view of sex workers is wrong. But the findings of this study will no doubt prove to be unfathomable to the coalition of radical feminists and conservative Christians who have overlooked their deeply held differences to criminalise the purchase of sex in Northern Ireland , and who advocate for the introduction of similar laws for the rest of the UK.
Their proposals are based on the so-called Swedish Model which criminalises the purchase of sex, based on a construction of sex work as gender-based violence against women. Despite being opposed by the Lancet , UN Aids , the World Health Organisation and Human Rights Watch, the criminalisation of the purchase of sex in Northern Ireland has energised those advocating a similar approach for the rest of the UK, who are supported by senior figures within the Labour Party.
They believe that sex work as a career cannot be freely chosen, but this is clearly at odds with the findings of this survey. It is startling that the Swedish Model is advocated as something which should be exported internationally despite there being no evidence at all that it has reduced sex work, and considerable evidence that is has subjected sex workers to increased harm and stigma. Despite the high levels of job satisfaction, the Leeds University study also found that 71 per cent of sex workers experience stigma and nearly half have been the victim of a crime during the course of their work.
National Ugly Mugs NUM , a multi-award winning project which supports sex workers when they are targeted by offenders, exists to challenge stigma and work in partnership with the police to improve practices and bring perpetrators of crimes against sex workers to justice. Selling sex is not inherently harmful or dangerous. Tragically, this belief is based in reality: only 26 per cent of the sex workers who have reported serious crimes to NUM were willing to report to the police.