Is prostitution legal in the UK?

It’s a question that’s being debated more and more, both in governments and on Twitter. With the phrase ‘prostitution law’ increasing on Google search trends in the past five years. To help decide your thoughts on the topic, please outline why most in the industry think prostitution should be legal. This question has been submitted by our members more times than any other. We asked this often misunderstood question to our in-house experts. The answer may surprise many of you interested readers and we welcome contributions from all like minded experts.


Answers: 3

Prostitution is legal in the UK. However, it is only permitted for a girl to work on her own. This means that escorts have no real protection; they​ cannot employ a receptionist legally to either answer their phones or to protect them against any problematic clients. This draconian hypocrisy puts working girls In London and escorts throughout the UK in potential danger with every client they see. Surely if it is legal for a prostitute in London to charge money in exchange for sexual services, then the law should allow the same prostitutes to be able to protect themselves with some form of security.


Legal prostitution makes sex workers safe. At the moment, prostitutes are at risk of violence, health problems and poverty. If prostitution was legal, sex workers could be protected. Just like in the Netherlands, where prostitutes have access to healthcare and social benefits. While in India, legal prostitutes can join unions for support, and even learn how to spot fake money. And sexually transmitted diseases are also less likely in places where prostitution is legal. In Nevada, there hasn’t been a registered prostitute diagnosed with HIV/AIDS since 1986. Legal prostitution contributes to society. Currently, prostitutes work on the edges of society; they don’t pay taxes or benefit from state help. If prostitution was legal, sex workers could contribute to communities. In Berlin, prostitution is taxed. It’s seen as an economic plus that can help the city, and in return, legal sex workers can use government-funded childcare and social support. While in Colorado, the now-legal drug cannabis has boosted the state’s economy by 15%. That extra money is being used at city and county levels to improve health care and reduce homelessness. Imagine if we used money generated from legal prostitution in the same way? Legal prostitution reduces the stigma sex workers face Right now there are approximately 72,800 prostitutes in the UK. Most hide what they do for a living because they’re made to feel ashamed. If prostitution was legal, sex workers could feel more accepted. In 2003 New Zealand made prostitution legal, meaning sex workers aren’t seen as criminals or victims. Instead, they’re able to work safely and seek help when they need it. After all, prostitutes have been documented throughout history – they even feature in the Bible. By making prostitution legal, we can help both those that feel empowered by sex work and those that feel trapped by it. And so far, laws haven’t stopped prostitution. By making prostitution legal,​ we can look after sex workers, regulate and manage the industry and give prostitutes a voice when they need it.


The extent and scope of legal restrictions on prostitution and sex work differ enormously depending on location. Some countries such as Germany have legalised sex work, while New Zealand has adopted decriminalisation. A position that is significantly different from legalisation (legalisation involves state control and regulation; while decriminalisation means that there are no criminal penalties for carrying out sex work.) Other locations carry out an abolitionist approach to sex work. In the UK, some aspects of sex work are legal. But third-party involvement is illegal; while in Norway, Sweden and France (under a system commonly known as 'the Nordic model'), buying sexual services is illegal, in an attempt to criminalise buyers rather than sex workers. Finally, there is the prohibitionist approach, seen in the majority of US states and in other countries, including Russia, China and Saudi Arabia, where all aspects of sex work are illegal. As one might imagine, the many different approaches to sex work and the vastly different legal restrictions on this field have been the subject of a great deal of contentious debate. Discussions on whether sex work should be legalised, criminalised or decriminalised have been a significant part of feminist discourse since the movement's second wave, with strong opinions from all sides. Many second-wave feminists have viewed sex work as violence against women under all circumstances, and favour an abolitionist approach, while third-wave and intersectional feminists have leaned more towards decriminalisation. Currently, the public debate around legal restrictions on sex work has focused on neo-abolitionism versus decriminalisation; the 'Nordic Model' versus the removal of criminal penalties for sex workers. Supporters of the Nordic Model argue that this legal framework means that the social stigma of sex work is shifted to pimps and clients, rather than the sex workers themselves, thus making it easier for sex workers both to report crimes against them and to work towards leaving the sex industry. However, the Nordic Model has been widely critiqued by pro-decriminalisation groups, including SWARM (Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement) and Amnesty International. Following an extensive study into the impact of the Nordic Model in Norway and Sweden. Amnesty International concluded that criminalising the buying of sexual services, in fact, harmed the safety of sex workers. Putting them at higher risk of violence by forcing them to work in areas with a lower police presence, and spend less time screening prospective clients for any red-flag behaviour. Amnesty's researchers concluded that there was substantial evidence to suggest that 'human rights abuses against [sex workers] are compounded by and, in some cases, directly caused by the legal framework' that composes the Nordic model. SWARM, a collective made up of sex workers advocating for their human and labour rights, argue that any criminalisation of sex work has a damaging effect on sex workers. Placing them in greater danger of violence, and potentially leading to other consequences such as eviction from accommodation or deportation from the sex worker's country of residence. SWARM, like Amnesty International, advocate for full decriminalisation, including the overturning of laws that criminalise soliciting, renting premises for sex work, and working with other sex workers (something that is often done for safety). While there is a large amount of high-profile support for the Nordic model, the fact that sex worker collectives and a major human rights organisation support a model of full decriminalisation suggests that the legal restrictions on sex work that currently apply should be overturned. The safety of sex workers and their right to work and live free from social and legal sanctions as a result of their work must always be paramount, and criminalisation of any kind has always proven to be detrimental to this right to safety and security.


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