A recent research study reviews health and wellbeing risks facing prostitutes (also known as sex workers) in the Westminster area. The Sex Worker task force has found additional evidence that suggests more violence is being experienced among sex workers that has become a local and national concern. Such evidence suggests sex workers are more likely to experience violent robbery attempts, sexual assault and rape. The task force also believes that such violence is being committed at higher rates, yet victims may be too afraid to report it after it happens.
The task force was developed in July 2012 with a purpose in conducting exercises to help understand the wellbeing and health of sex workers in different areas such as mental and sexual health, substance abuse, trafficking, violence, and exploitation risk. One aspect of this study was to review how to reduce the violent crimes being committed against sex workers and how can it be done on a wider scale? In this sense, researchers had to understand the nature of sex work being done, get an idea of how to prioritize health needs and wellbeing of sex workers, gain views on the subject matter from authorities such as the London Metropolitan Police and Westminster City Council to name a few, and research and develop recommendations.
Most sex workers engage in sexual activity for exchange for payment, either in money or drugs. Different areas of Westminster were reviewed to understand the types of sex services were being practiced. Some were street-based sex work with women being between 30 and 40 years old. Their backgrounds varied with some being homeless or gang-related, while being of British or Romanian decent. Off street sex workers were also reviewed. In this case, they may be an individual who performs sex services in the privacy of their home, a rented room, or as a “maid.” Off street sex workers may offer more services, but researchers learned that many have reduced their costs in recent years. This may be in attempt to gain more clients who can’t afford to make higher payments. Such workers may be putting themselves at a higher risk of danger by accepting more clients for less money. Male and transgender workers were also part of the research, while sex workers of this nature are somewhat rare in Westminster.
Research showed 22 percent of transgender sex workers experience violence; 13 percent of non-transgender female sex workers may experience violence. Many sex workers who choose not to report a violent act have lack of trust in the police, fear being identified by the public, uneasy about the court process, fear getting arrested and have mounting fears about daily survival (reporting the crime may not be a priority).
While there are help opportunities for sex workers, research shows sex workers need more encouragement in order to prevent violent acts against them. Forming a partnership with multi-agencies, continued awareness of the issue, empowering sex workers through language courses for migrant workers, and learning more about police policies may help provide clarity and motivation for sex workers. Certain areas of Westminster have seen improvement in sexual violence reporting with conviction rates rising, but the task force feels more action should be explored. Additional measures are being explored to prevent offenders from re-offending after serving time.