Part 2: Is 'Sex work' work?

Ok, so what reasons suggest that perhaps ‘sex work’ is not a profession? 

Nonconsensual sex is an offence  

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 says that someone consents to sexual activity if they: 

  • Agree by choice and 
  • Have both the freedom and capacity to make that choice. 

If someone says ‘no’ to any kind of sexual activity, they do not agree to it. But, if someone doesn’t say ‘no’ out loud, that doesn’t automatically mean that they have agreed to it either. 

In the context of sex trafficking or ‘sex work’, none of these conditions exist. Women surviving sex trafficking do not choose their clients; they do not choose the timing; and, in most cases, they have hardly any freedom to determine the nature of the acts performed. All of these things are chosen for them. A sex trafficked woman is not able to say ‘no’. ‘Sex work’ is sexual abuse, it is a sexual offence.  

Other jobs don’t require exit strategies and extensive psycho-social rehabilitation 

Most people might be able to describe their job as physically and mentally challenging at times, maybe even all of the time. But is there any other ‘job’ that requires exit strategies and psychosocial rehabilitation, and thousands of pounds worth of it at that? Do you come away from your job at the end of the day thinking I am worthless, good for nothing, a whore and a slut, who deserves to be abused and degraded? Do you hear these things spoken over you in your workplace? Do you come away feeling violated and in pain, yet numb and dissociated? 

In Encompass, we hope to take people through a journey from initial interaction, trust building, practical support, into Flourish which provides the opportunity for improved mental wellbeing, personal development, healing from trauma and healthy connection with others. Flourish is how we see survivors of sex trafficking heal and exit. Without the ability to come away from the chaos and danger of sex trafficking, to see that there is another path available to them, how will a person who has been sexually exploited their whole life know any different? This process can take years, sometimes a whole lifetime. Organisations like Azalea exist for this very reason: to continually offer hope for a different future. It is not cheap, but it is completely necessary.  

Students and the unemployed are not directed to sex work  

Does the JobCentre suggest prostitution as a prospective career path for the unemployed? When taking a ‘career quiz’, does ‘sex work’ ever get recommended to your personality type and working style? Are there courses on how to be better at sex acts? Are there college and university courses directing students towards the sex industry as a vocation? Would you ever dream that your child would one day grow up to be sexually exploited on the streets of your town? 

There is a reason why we do not and should not align ‘sex work’ with other forms of legitimate work. Because the risks, particularly to the most vulnerable and marginalised in society, are too high. The treatment that these women receive is not anything we would want for ourselves or for our loved ones. So why should we want it for anyone else? If you asked the people at the top of the chain, making the money, ‘would you be happy for your daughter to be a sex worker?’, what do you suspect they would say? 

Rape is not part of any job specification  

Rape is not and should never be part of someone’s job, a downside of your career choice, like occasionally having to work overtime or having to skip your lunchbreak because of an inconveniently long meeting.  

The Metropolitan Police state that:  

The legal definition of rape is when a person intentionally penetrates another’s vagina, anus or mouth with a penis, without the other person’s consent. Assault by penetration is when a person penetrates another person’s vagina or anus with any part of the body other than a penis, or by using an object, without the person’s consent. 

The overall definition of sexual or indecent assault is an act of physical, psychological and emotional violation in the form of a sexual act, inflicted on someone without their consent. It can involve forcing or manipulating someone to witness or participate in any sexual acts. 

Not all cases of sexual assault involve violence, cause physical injury or leave visible marks. Sexual assault can cause severe distress, emotional harm and injuries which can’t be seen – all of which can take a long time to recover from. This is why we use the term ‘assault’, and treat reports just as seriously as those of violent, physical attacks. 

Rape and sexual assault is illegal and should not be on anyone’s job spec. This quote summarises it quite nicely: ‘If prostitution is “sex work”, then by its own logic, rape is merely theft. The inside of a woman’s body should never be viewed as a workplace.’ Julie Bindel, The Guardian, Mon 30 Apr 2018. 


This blog post only presents a handful of reasons why ‘sex work’, ‘prostitution’, sex trafficking, should be deemed a profession. The framing of sex trafficking is important. Using the phrase ‘sex work’ implies that it is a job and is not a daily lived experience of rape and sexual assault. Similarly, the Cambridge Dictionary defines prostitution as: prostitution definition: 1. the work of a prostitute 2. the business of having sex for money. These words suggest that survivors of sex trafficking are employed, that they receive fair wages and are cared for by their employer. The reality of this ‘job’ is rape and degradation resulting in the need for physical and emotional numbness often through addiction. Perhaps there is a way for a female to be in control, to maintain meaningful consent, to receive a fair wage for the sexual ‘services’ she provides. But the reality for the great majority, and in Encompass, is that the women we walk with are some of the most vulnerable in society, and they are suffering the consequences of ‘sex work’ being deemed a profession, a service to be accessed and utilised for personal pleasure.   


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