Sex workers' vital fight for financial inclusion

Sex workers’ vital fight for financial inclusion

  • Published on
    April 16, 2024
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Becky Webster, a former NHS worker turned full-time sex worker in the U.K., faced another financial barrier when Barclays Bank froze her account, leaving her unable to access her son’s state benefit payment for over a week. This incident marked the 15th time she had been denied a bank account or had one shut down due to her occupation in the sex industry, reports the Financial Times. In response, Webster launched a petition urging MPs to ensure that individuals working in the sex industry have access to banking services, garnering over 11,000 signatures.

“I’ve applied for a bank account, a business bank account and as soon as I get to ‘what’s your occupation’ and I put the sex industry, it just won’t let me carry on,” said Webster, adding: “So you want me to pay taxes but you want to take bank accounts off me?”

Webster’s experience sheds light on a broader issue of financial exclusion faced by sex workers, where many are unfairly denied basic financial services. The problem extends beyond Webster’s case, affecting thousands of individuals.

Sex work and financial discrimination

Despite the legality of selling and purchasing sexual services between consenting adults in England and Wales, sex workers encounter significant challenges in accessing financial services. According to the English Collective for Prostitutes, an estimated 72,800 individuals engage in selling sexual services in the U.K., with the majority being women. However, research by the Sex Workers Union and Decrim Now revealed that over 80% of sex workers face some form of financial discrimination, thereby exacerbating their vulnerability.

Jessica Van Meir, the co-founder of MintStars, and researcher of sex workers’ rights at Harvard University states,

“It is life-threatening to sex workers to lose their bank accounts. When someone cannot have a bank account to hold their money independently, they are more likely to rely on a third party to hold their money for them, such as a partner who could potentially then abuse or exploit them.”

This discrimination is particularly egregious considering that sex workers are required to pay income tax on their earnings. Yet, they often encounter obstacles in accessing banking services even when they are registered as sole traders and fulfill their tax obligations. Banks justify their actions by, citing concerns about monitoring and preventing financial crime, including sex trafficking. However, activists argue that denying sex workers access to banking services increases their vulnerability to exploitation and theft, pushing them towards less secure alternatives.

“We need financial authorities to stop conflating sex and sex work with criminality, and reinforcing the isolation and marginalization already facing sex workers,” said Audrey Caradonna, a Decrim Now representative.

The solution: full decriminalization of sex work

To truly address the issue of financial exclusion faced by sex workers, it is imperative to challenge the stigma and legal barriers surrounding sex work. Full decriminalization of sex work is the most effective approach to building resilience against trafficking for sexual exploitation. By removing punitive laws and stigma, sex workers can access essential services without fear of discrimination or persecution.

Moreover, decriminalization would enable sex workers to engage with financial institutions without facing arbitrary account closures or freezes based on their occupation that leave them vulnerable to exploitation.

Ensuring equal access to financial services is not only a matter of economic justice but also a crucial step towards safeguarding the rights and well-being of sex workers. There is a concerning degree of exploitation and discrimination in the sex industry. We firmly believe that the full decriminalization of sex work is the best way to create systemic change and place strong protections for sex workers that prevent trafficking and exploitation. Learn more about our work supporting the full decriminalization of sex work to prevent trafficking.


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1 month ago

It is a Shame that we have to live knowing how are people are being discriminetad!

1 month ago

i totally agree. thank you for your unvaluable work!

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