Most migrant sex workers are not forced to sell sex

31 October 2011

Most migrants working in the London sex industry do not feel they are forced to sell sex. In fact, they decide to work in the sex industry to achieve a good standard of living for themselves and their families back home. They say working in the sex industry avoids employment in menial and poorly paid jobs.  These are the findings of a study led by Dr Nick Mai of London Metropolitan University. The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), is based on in-depth interviews with 100 women, men and transgender migrants working in the London sex industry.

The findings will be presented at a half-day event, "In whose name? Migration, Sex Work and Trafficking". The event, as part of the ESRC’s Festival of Social Science, is open to all with a specific focus on targeting policymakers, sex workers rights organisations, community services, and the media to attend.

"The perception that the commercial sex industry is connected to international organised crime and irregular immigration has raised moral panic about trafficking in the UK. Neither the moral panic, nor legislation brought in to counter trafficking, reflects existing research evidence," says Dr Mai. "To avoid knee-jerk reactions and to obtain a better understanding of the issues, it’s essential that the findings of recent and relevant research are made known to the government and the public at large."

The presentation will be followed by a screening of a work in progress a cut of Dr Mai’s documentary which draws on his research findings.

In addition to the ESRC funded research, the results of two recent and relevant studies will be presented. These were carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the x:talk project.

Dr Lucy Platt and Pippa Grenfell from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine will present the key findings of a linked survey and qualitative study, funded by the Medical Research Council, which explores risks and vulnerability among migrant and non-migrant female sex workers in London.

The report, Human rights, sex work and the challenge of trafficking, produced by x:talk will be the focus of a third presentation. Ava Caradonna (pseudonym), spokesperson for x:talk says, "We’ve always suspected that attempts to address human trafficking have been co-opted by people with another agenda - eradication of the sex industry. What this report highlights is that rather than assisting and supporting trafficked people, anti-trafficking policies have been effective at putting the safety, health and even the lives of sex workers at risk. The policies have also helped make sex workers a soft target for the Border Agency."

For further information contact:

ESRC Press Office:

Notes for editors:

  1. In whose name? Migration, sex work and trafficking
    Organiser: Dr Nick Mai, London Metropolitan University
    Date: 31 October 2011 15.00-18.00
    Venue: London Metropolitan University
    Audience: Suitable for people with a specific interest and some knowledge of the topic
    For more information: In whose name? Migration, sex work and trafficking
    Attendance is free but registration is limited
    To reserve a place, please contact: iset@londonmet.ac.uk
  2. This press release is based on early findings from the project Migrant Workers in the UK sex Industry funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. The research team was led by Dr Nick Mai,  Senior Research Officer in Migrations and Immigrations  at the Institute for the Study of European Transformations (ISET) at London Metropolitan University. 
  3. London was chosen as the main site of the research because of the scale and diversity of its sex industry and of its migrant population. The research involved in-depth semi-structured interviews with 100 migrants (67 women, 24 men and nine transgender) working in all sectors of the sex industry. While most of the broader dynamics and issues analysed in this research can be extended to the rest of the UK, it is important to underline that the majority of interviews were undertaken in central London. This means that the research findings reflect the specificity of the sex industry in central London, which is characterised by a strong prevalence of migrants, most of whom tend to work off-street. The people interviewed were from South America, Eastern Europe, the EU and South East Asia. The research team included people working in the sex industry and members of organisations representing sex workers. Further details: www.londonmet.ac.uk/research-units/iset/projects/esrc-migrant-workers.cfm
  4. The Festival of Social Science is run by the Economic and Social Research Council which runs from 29 October to 5 November 2011. With events from some of the country's leading social scientists, the Festival celebrates the very best of British social science research and how it influences our social, economic and political lives - both now and in the future. This year’s Festival of Social Science has over 130 creative and exciting events aimed at encouraging businesses, charities, government agencies; and schools or college students to discuss, discover and debate topical social science issues. Press releases detailing some of the varied events are available at the Festival website. You can now follow updates from the Festival on twitter using #esrcfestival
  5. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2011/12 is £203 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at www.esrc.ac.uk