Despite being considered one of the oldest professions in the world, sex workers are probably one of the most misunderstood groups of people in the world. Many nations have strict laws that punish those in the sex industry, criminalizing an activity that remains in constant demand regardless of its legal status.
As a result of the oppressive taboo placed upon the buying and selling of sex, black market organizations fill in the void created by prohibition, similar to alcohol, drugs and other industries considered sinful. Driving sex workers underground has created an environment in which their lives are poorly understood and unprotected, exposing them to greater risk of disease, violence and exploitation while enriching criminal organizations who tend to treat sex workers, in particular women, like slaves.
For the most part, political parties have very little to benefit from if they decide to spend taxpayer money on studies and programs benefitting sex workers. Any politician lobbying for the decriminalization of sex work faces a backlash from conservative voting blocs who may perceive a change in policy as being “soft on crime” or “pro-crime.”
This is why studies performed by institutions and publications such as the University of Victoria, the University of Leeds and The Lancet are crucial in lifting the lid on what sex workers actually deal with on a regular basis. Their reports help destroy some of the stereotypical assumptions made by politicians and many within the general public, perhaps one day leading to a safer, healthier work environment for sex workers.
15. Personal Lives More Stressful Than The Job
Statistics suggest that sex workers as a whole consider their personal lives to be more difficult than their life at work. One out of five respondents rated their profession as very or extremely stressful while 43 percent of respondents considered their lives away from work as very or extremely successful.
The fact that sex workers responded so strongly about the stresses of their personal lives suggest that a large portion of sex workers deal with serious issues such as addiction, family problems, physical and mental health issues, among other stress factors that may keep them working within the sex industry.
14. Income and Experience Gap
Both the income levels and experience within the sex industry skew towards buyers of sex rather than sellers of sex. As of 2014, the average income of a sex buyer is approximately $60,000 per year, the average for sex providers is about $39,500 per year while the managers take home a mean annual income of $42,000.
In term of experience, sex workers have an average of 10 years experience in the sex industry while sex buyers average about 16 years of experience in purchasing sex. The first time a sex buyer makes their first purchase averages 25 years old while the average age for the first sale for a sex worker averages 26 years of age.
13. Work-Related Injuries Rarely Compensated
According to the University of Victoria survey, 15 percent of the sex workers who took the survey reported having gone through a work-related injury while performing services for a client. However, the Workers Compensation Board received claims related to sex work from only one percent of injured sex workers.
The lack of claims made to Workers Compensation Boards reflects the impact of the legal limbo sex workers face, creating an environment where they don’t receive the same level of on-the-job safety and protection that most workers receive from government organizations.
Providing support rather than punishing sex workers would help reduce the harm experienced by those in the profession.
12. Workers Get Tested More Often Than Buyers
Research states that about 97 percent of workers get tested for HIV/AIDS on a regular basis while sex purchasers get tested only 68 percent of the time, which implies that nearly a third more workers monitor their sexual health with diligence.
While it’s difficult for most to imagine that anyone engaging in risky sexual activity wouldn’t at least get tested on a regular basis, the fact that buyers appear less interested in their health suggests that they place the burden of preventing transmittable disease on sex workers.
Ideally, both sex workers and sex buyers would have to pass medical testing before making a transaction, a policy that would greatly help curb the spread of sexually transmitted infections, reducing the risk for everyone involved in the sex trade.
11. Some Workers Don’t Use Protection
Considering the percentage of sex buyers who are not tested for serious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, the fact that not all sex workers use condoms while on the job represents a frightening risk that some buyers and sellers take each time a transaction takes place.
Unfortunately, reports suggest that in Canada, only 68 percent of all sex workers used a condom with every buyer during the month previous to the University of Victoria study, exposing far too many individuals in the industry to potentially deadly and debilitating diseases.
Teaching as many sex workers as possible about the best practises in terms of safe sex and business transactions would reduce the prevalence of disease and other dangers. Easy access to condoms for sellers and buyers reduce the risk even further.
10. Gender Imbalance
The majority of sex workers are female, with a total of 77 percent in the sex industry identifying themselves as women. Men represent 17 percent of sex workers while six percent identified as other genders. Some may consider it surprising that more than one in five sex workers are not female, while others might lament that fact that nearly four in five sex workers are women, an obvious imbalance of power.
The skewing of sex work towards women is further confirmed by the fact that 66 percent of workers present themselves as a different gender when with clients, with the majority behaving in a more feminine fashion while on the job.
9. Sexual Orientation Demographics
Only 45 percent of workers in the sex industry consider themselves fully heterosexual, which is less than half of the typical percentage of straight people reported in surveys of the general public. Bisexual or bi-curious sex workers make up 38 percent of the industry, six percent are gay or lesbian and 11 percent reported themselves as other in terms of their sexual orientation.
The fact that straight sex workers comprise less than half of the industry reveals another significant imbalance, in this case revolving around sexual orientation. These numbers imply that, for whatever reason, individuals of non-heterosexual orientations become involved in sex work at a much higher rate.
8. Habits of Sex Buyers
Most sex buyers, 65 percent of johns, utilize an in-call service to facilitate a sexual transaction with a sex seller. Over half, 55 percent, visited a massage parlour to buy sex. Approximately 39 percent contacted an out-call service to arrange a sex transaction. The least popular method for sex buyers was seeking to purchase sex on the streets.
These stats suggest that those who buy sex tend to connect with sex sellers through two or more methods and have a multitude of options available at all times.
Nearly all, 99 percent of sex buyers, support legalization of sex work. They tend to buy sex services about four times per year on average.
7. Proportion of Young and Foreign Sex Workers
Despite an average age of 26 for the first sale of sex, 29 percent of sex workers report selling sex before the age of 19. The Canadian study also revealed that 29 percent of sex sellers experience enough trouble in their family lives to end up in government care or a foster home during a part of their childhood. These two numbers matching appears to be a chilling indicator of the amount of children who fall through the gaps in Canada’s social welfare system, landing in the sex industry.
The Canadian survey also revealed that 11 percent of sex workers were born outside the borders of the country, suggesting that a significant portion of sex workers arrive in Canada to perform sex work.
6. Education Level of Sex Workers
67 percent of sex workers in Canada finished high school while 88.4 percent of the general population have completed a high school education or a GED. In terms of University degrees, 20.9 percent of Canadians earned a bachelor’s degree or greater while 15 percent of sex workers have a bachelor’s degree or post-graduate work.
The drop in education level of sex workers compared to the general public suggests that those in the sex industry haven’t had the same educational opportunities as others. In particular, the gap in high school diplomas between demographic groups implies that these opportunities are even more difficult to come by for children.
5. Violence Against Sex Workers
In Canada, over 40 percent of sex workers reported being a victim of a violent crime. In total, 24 percent were physically attacked, 29 percent were sexually assaulted and 18 percent were robbed. Assailants included clients, co-workers and managers.
The percentage of sex sellers who reported an attack by a client was 16 percent, eight percent were threatened with violence or a weapon, 14 percent had a client attempt to steal from them and 16 percent reported being forced into a non-consensual sexual activity.
There numbers were similar to those reported by managers, 37 percent of whom reported that a sex worker under their supervision experienced an attack within the previous year.
4. Legalization Greatly Reduces Health Risks
According to The Lancet medical journal, when the Brazilian government legalized sex work as a legitimate occupation, the odds that a sex worker contracts the HIV virus was reduced by 32 percent.
When the South African government promoted various initiatives that supported condom use among sex workers and the rest of the population, the overall reduction in HIV among sex sellers exceeded 70 percent.
Sex workers under pressure to avoid arrest and prosecution for their activities are much less likely to focus on health issues instead of taking risks to avoid punishment. Where possession of a condom can be used as evidence to prosecute sex work, about a third of sex sellers won’t carry protection at all.
3. Best Methods to Reduce HIV Among Sex Workers
In addition to decriminalization, which results in an overall estimated decline in HIV between 33 and 46 percent, The Lancet reports that preventative measures far outperform the application of medicinal therapy in the reduction of HIV/AIDS.
Creating a safer work environment for sex workers results in an estimated decline between 21 to 45 percent and the elimination of sexual violence against sex sellers would reduce HIV by 17 to 20 percent. While anti-retroviral therapy is an important method to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS, results vary between 9 and 34 percent in the reduction of HIV transmission.
2. Studies Suggest Sex Work Is Not Inherently Bad
A study in the United Kingdom performed by Leeds University focused on those who had the choice to enter into the sex industry, rather than being forced or trafficked into work. The education levels of sex workers who willingly enter the trade are significantly higher than the profession as a whole, with 38 percent holding an undergraduate degree and 17 percent achieving postgraduate levels of scholastic work.
Alex Feis-Bryce, Director of a U.K. NGO dedicated to the promotion of better health and safety for sex workers, stated that “many people, particularly politicians, fall into the trap of seeing sex work as inherently bad without actually asking sex workers what their experiences are and what challenges they face.”
1. Previous Occupations of Sex Workers
The same survey of sex workers by Leeds University asked about the previous or current occupations of those selling within the sex industry. Incredibly, over 70 percent of those surveyed worked in traditionally respected occupations within the education, healthcare and charity sectors before turning to sex work. The next largest group, 33 percent of sex workers, were involved in the retail industry before choosing to sell sex.
This study also revealed that many of these sex workers earn under 1,000 pounds per month, which in some cases supplements income already earned. One respondent revealed that she turned to sex work after being unable to maintain a mortgage on a 50 pound per day job as a healthcare assistant with the National Health Service.