New research finds changing trends in sex worker homicide

The UK Sex Worker Homicide Database: An Analysis

by Stewart Cunningham, Teela Sanders, Lucy Platt, Pippa Grenfell, Pg Macioti

As part of a Wellcome Trust funded project on ‘reviewing the occupational risks of sex workers in comparison to other ‘risky’ professions: mental ill-health, violence and murder’ we undertook analysis of a database of sex worker homicide in the UK between 1990 – 2016.  While we cannot say with certainty that the database constitutes a record of absolutely all sex worker homicide in the UK we believe that it may be the most accurate existing resource on the subject given its proximity to the sex worker community and those with on the ground knowledge (it is currently held by National Ugly Mugs and was previously updated by Hilary Kinnell and then Shelly Stoops on behalf of UKNSWP).


We decided to classify the homicides based on whether the victim was killed in the course of work to better identify instances of occupational or work-related homicide. The database records 180 sex worker homicides between 1990 and 2016 and of these we classified 110 victims as being killed in the course of work, 37 of the homicides as being non-work related and in 33 of the cases we were unable to classify based on a lack of information.  We conducted more detailed analysis on the 110 cases of known occupational homicide.


Cis-gendered women represented the vast majority of victims (n=105) of occupational homicide with two cis-gendered male victims and three trans women victims.  The vast majority of homicide victims were street based sex workers (n=85) with a smaller number (n=24) of victims who worked indoors (work setting not known for one victim).  The trends around work sector have, however, changed quite dramatically since 2010.  Between 1990 and 1999, 85% (n=28) of sex work occupational homicide was committed against street based sex workers.  The overall numbers of homicides increased significantly in 2000 to 2009 but the percentage of street based victims remained the same at 85% (n=50).  Between 2010 and 2016, however, this pattern has reversed and there are now more indoor sex workers killed (59%, n=10) than street based sex workers (41%, n=7).  This could, in part, reflect the changing working practices for sex workers with the rise of internet facilitated indoor working resulting in a significant decline in street based sex working.


The vast majority of victims (where ethnicity and nationality were known, n=100) were of white British ethnicity (n=77, 77%) with white Eastern European victims the next largest group (n=9, 9%).  There were smaller numbers of mixed race (n=6), Black (n=5) and Asian (n=2) victims of various national identities.  The proportion of homicide victims that have a migration background has increased in recent years.  In the 20 years between 1990 and 1999 only 6% (n=5) of sex work occupational homicide victims (where nationality/migration status is known) were migrants compared to 94% (n=77) who were British born. Since 2010 the proportion of migrant victims has dramatically increased to 50% (n=8), exactly the same number of British born victims.  This may be reflective of changes in the overall makeup of the sex industry with increasing numbers of migrant workers and/or suggest that offenders are specifically targeting migrants because of their potentially increased vulnerability.


The solve rate for sex worker occupational homicide improved substantially in the 2000s and since 2006 every single case has been solved with the offender convicted.  It is also important to note that this current decade has the lowest number of sex worker homicides on record since the database was created.  Between 2010 and 2016, 27 sex workers were murdered in total (17 while working) compared to 91 (60 while working) in 2000 – 2009 and 62 (33 while working) in 1990 – 1999.


Analysis of the homicide database shows changing trends in sex worker homicide with victims now being more likely to work indoors than on the street and also increasing numbers of migrant sex worker being targeted.  Future research on sex worker homicide must consider the social and legal contexts in which sex work takes place and how this may impact on vulnerability to homicide.  Legal change though cannot occur in isolation and much has to be done to challenge and counter the, still pervasive, stigma that exists against sex workers, making them so vulnerable to all forms of violence, including homicide.  Only with a combination of anti-stigma work alongside meaningful legal and policy change that prioritizes sex worker safety can there be any hope of addressing the tragedy of sex worker homicide

The briefing papers can be found here: