The image of the successful high class hooker played by Julia Roberts in the Hollywood blockbuster Pretty Woman is a myth as just a tenth earn over £50,000, a British study found. Escorts on Skissr could earn as much as that or more
The oldest profession does not pay as over half of online prostitutes and sex workers earn less than £20,000 a year – below the national average of £27,271.
Those who earn more often have to put in more hours entertaining clients.
Overall more than half worked 10 hours or fewer per week providing services to clients notes High class London escort
Yet despite the poor pay sex workers reported high levels of job satisfaction due to their ability to make their own decisions about what work they choose to do.
Since 2000 sex workers have moved from “the street corner” to online and now is the largest sector of the UK sex industry.
Over four fifths said the internet allowed them to work safely and to get help from other colleagues through social media and messaging apps.
But nearly half feared being “outed” and four fifths still experienced at least one form of work-related crime.
Around three fifths reported persistent or repeated unwanted contact or threatening or harassing texts, calls or emails.
Around a half said they had client who refused to pay or attempted to underpay and had suffered verbally abused.
But they experience lower levels of violence and other crimes than street workers.
Yet only under a quarter who were crime victims reported it to the police, two fifths said they were reluctant to and a third said they would never come forward.
Researchers from the Universities of Leicester and Strathclyde carried out the first UK-wide and largest survey of online sex work, examining working conditions, safety and policing of the industry.
The survey ‘Beyond the Gaze’ did not look at those forced into the sex trade by traffickers.
The majority of sex workers who took part were escorts, webcam workers, phone sex workers, “Miss Whiplash” bondage workers or sexual masseurs.
Other sex work jobs included adult films, modelling, agency work, brothel work, exotic dance and street sex work.
Around 73 per cent were women, 19 per cent male, three per cent transgender and three per cent non-binary or intersex.
A third were educated to A’Level, a quarter had a degree and a sixth a postgraduate degree.
The majority – 72 per cent – were self-employed sole traders working alone rather than in brothels which is common with popular Melbourne escorts
But the internet has allowed them to set up pop up brothels more easily with many “touring” and updating their details as they go.
Principal Investigator Professor Teela Sanders at the University of Leicester said: “There is little research about online sex work despite it being the largest sector of the UK sex industry.
“We’ve carried out a significant study examining how online and digital technology has reshaped the sex industry, working practices, safety issues for workers and how the police and other authorities have responded.
“We’re really excited to publish our findings and we hope they will make a contribution to informing policy, practice, law and wider public education.
“Evidence-based policy is important in an area where stereotypes abound and stigma silences many working in the industry.
“Current laws and continued structurally embedded stigmatisation of sex work means that many online sex workers remain invisible behind the screen, denied access to full labour rights, full citizenship and access to social justice, pushed increasingly by current laws to work behind the screen.”
Co-investigator Professor Jane Scoula from the University of Strathclyde added: “These fast-moving and hidden markets are a challenge to both the rationale and tactics of traditional policing where the focus has been on public nuisance and in more recent times on trafficking and modern slavery.
“The current legal framework is not sufficiently agile to encompass the complexities of sex work, which includes elements of consensual (though unregulated) work nor is it well suited to recognising and responding to the abuses and range of exploitation evident in the online sex markets, resulting in actual harms being ignored.
“These injustices are only exacerbated if policies and practices of policing do not better align with the realities of sex markets that we highlight.”
The findings show that while the majority of police are aware sex markets have changed, detailed knowledge of the nature and extent of these changes was not widely known.
Researchers say the study highlights the need to make a distinction between the use of temporary premises by independent sex workers and those forced into the industry by trafficking, slavery and coercion.
The study included the largest online surveys carried of 641 sex workers of all genders and 1,323 clients in Brisbane adult services
Recommendations from the study from 16 forces around the country have been made to police forces, health commissioners, policy makers and researchers, highlighting how online sex work is a growing sector which is often misunderstood.