Beyond the Gaze: The working practices, regulation and safety of Internet-based sex work in the UK

Teela Sanders, Jane Scoular and Rosie Campbell give a short (6 minute) outline of the project in this video.

Professor Teela Sanders (University of Leicester) and Professor Jane Scoular (Strathclyde University).

  • Project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council for three years which started September 2015, substantive findings will be published in November 2017, with a launch of wider findings in January 2018.
  • Our overarching question is: How has the Internet shaped the 21st Century adult commercial sex industry in the UK and what is the role of regulation?
  • Therefore the aims of this research are threefold: a)to understand the wider theoretical significance of new technologies for changing the social practice of sexual consumption and the sex industry. b) to map the trends and understand the working practices in Internet-based sex work markets within the broader processes of the regulation and policing of sex work in the UK. c) to facilitate the integration of Internet-based sex work into safety and health-related provision, policies and agencies.
  • We intend to answer these questions using a mixed methodology to gather new empirical knowledge, and have designed a project consisting of  qualitative interviews with internet based sex workers, their customers and  with those involved in the policing and regulation of online sex work activities (such as the police, Home Office, IT specialists/service providers), a large national online survey of sex workers, an online survey of the customers of internet based sex workers & an online survey of support projects.
  • Community co-researchers have assisted  in the recruitment of participants, promoting the project, research design and are involved in dissemination and impact work.  There is an integrated service provision and developmental role built into the project team through a Research, Support and Development Netreach Officer.
  • The project has three key beneficiary groups who are collaborators on the project:
    1. Sex workers who work online and the broader sex work community.
    2. sex work projects and practitioners who work with sex workers – both statutory and third sector, including sexual health practitioners who deliver specific clinical services to sex workers.
    3. Police through the National Police Chief’s Council, the national police Lead for Sex Work & policy makers (such as local and national government)
  • These groups will benefit in the following ways:
    • A range of bespoke briefings  informed by research findings
    • Learning share events
    • In collaboration with partners  National Ugly Mugs and it’s member projects, the development of  good practice guidance for working with online sex workers, including netreach approaches.
    • Bespoke safety info based on the research findings and produced by internet based sex workers for the National Ugly Mugs and Beyond the Gaze websites.
    • Enhanced netreach provisions for sex workers in Leeds, West Yorkshire, working with Basis Sex Work Project, Basis Yorkshire.

To down load a summary of the project click here

Our current definition of internet based sex workers is;

‘Sex workers based on their own, in collectives, or working through an agency, who use the internet to market or sell sexual services either directly (i.e. interacting with clients in person e.g. escorting, erotic massage, BDSM) or indirectly (i.e. interacting with clients online e.g. webcamming)’  (Sanders, Scoular, Pitcher, Cunningham & Campbell, 2015)