“The main driver [of sex work] is not demand, it’s not supply; it’s poverty,” – Audrey, Hookers Against Hardship campaign organizer
Spiralling inflation, housing costs, and energy bills are hitting millions of people in the U.K. and around the world. Many are faced with the choice between heating and eating, and struggling to keep up with rent payments. For sex workers, the cost of living crisis is uniquely difficult and will put them at greater risk of exploitation.
Worsening work conditions
A new campaign, Hookers Against Hardship, seeks to draw attention to the experiences of sex workers during this economic crisis, build solidarity with all workers, and demand the U.K. government take meaningful action against poverty.
At the intersection of poverty and criminalization, sex workers are at greater risk of exploitation and trafficking given their reduced ability to negotiate with clients. Audrey explained, “The client pool is shrinking and that is having an impact not only on the way we make our money, but also the conditions in which we are working to make that money”.
Decriminalization will make work safer
Calling for the full decriminalization of sex work is a key demand of the campaign. Instead of protecting women engaging in sex work from violence, criminalization models push sex workers underground where they are more likely to be vulnerable to violence, exploitation, abuse and trafficking, and are less likely to report to the police and seek help.
These conditions are further exacerbated in poverty, placing sex workers in a position where they are unable to turn down dangerous clients or “going into environments and situations that may be unsafe or criminalised”.
And for trans, POC and migrant workers, there’s additional layers of risks including increased threat of violence and deportation. “When you have any increased financial strain, it is always going to have to push workers to work in more dangerous ways,” says Audrey. “It’s putting a lot of sex workers in a very precarious position.”
Furthermore, the cost of living crisis is seeing more people being pushed into doing sex work for the first time. The stigma that is attached to sex work means that many may be unable to identify dangerous and exploitative situations and not know who to ask for help.
When workers are criminalized and pushed into poverty, the risk of trafficking increases. That’s why Freedom United supports the decriminalization of sex work as a means of building resilience to trafficking and exploitation. Learn more about trafficking and sex work here.