Laura Lee- remembering an inspirational woman and sex worker rights campaigner

The Beyond the Gaze Team were deeply saddened to learn about the passing of   Laura Lee on 6th February 2018. She was a fierce campaigner for sex worker rights and a phenomenal  woman.

Indeed since the announcement of Laura’s death many have  expressed  shock and sadness at the loss of an inspirational woman and sex worker rights campaigner.  The tributes to Laura have been a testimony to her work and the impression she made on people. Many individuals and organisations have been posting condolences and statements on social media and more widely online paying tribute to her work. Here are links to just a small number of such statements:

Statement from Sex Workers Alliance Ireland:

Joint statement from Scot-Pep and Umbrella Lane:

Joint statement from ECP and SWARM:

Statement ‘In Memory of Laura Lee’ from National Ugly Mugs:


Her solicitor Ciaran Moynagh  who had worked with Laura  on  her case challenging the law which criminalised the purchase of sexual services,  introduced in 2015 in  Northern Ireland ,  stated:

“Laura courageously fronted a campaign and judicial review which sought to defend and protect thousands of sex workers who do not have a voice. In the face of much opposition she maintained great dignity. Laura Lee will be remembered as one of this country’s most fearless human rights advocates and we are committed to continuing her work.”

Laura was arguing  that the law breached her human rights entitlements to privacy and freedom from discrimination and she stressed how this law undermined sex worker safety. She had fought hard to win the right for this judicial review and hopes were high. Taking on such a high profile case as a sex worker in Ireland had lead to deep respect for her and she served as a beacon of hope and strength for many sex workers.

Dr Brooke Magnanti (author of Belle de Jour)  tweeted  ‘The work Laura Lee did meant so much to so many. To say Laura Lee was a titan in the sex worker’s rights movement does not begin to do her justice. This is a devastating loss’.  ‘She put herself on the line in a way few have the guts to do, and there was no finer moment than when she went in alone against the NI Justice Committee and, despite their bullying, emerged head held high’.

We were privileged that Laura was a champion for BtG, she promoted the research from the start, contributed to the BtG short film (soon to be public, and which will now be in memory of Laura)  and this was just one small part of the projects/causes/initiatives/organisations and people that she gave her support, time and energies to.

Much of the media coverage of Laura’s passing has been respectful  and has acknowledge her contribution to sex worker rights in Ireland,  the UK and Beyond (e.g.  )   As part of her campaigning work and to raise awareness about rights issues  for sex workers and the need for decriminalisation, she did much social and wider media work plus public speaking, she  was such an articulate and effective communicator who spoke with great passionate. We saw just one example of this at the Beyond the Gaze launch on 23rd January 2018 in Manchester where Laura spoke  with great passion about the impact of  law on sex worker safety, working conditions and rights, in the audience were sex workers, activists, police, health/support project workers and academics.  The atmosphere in the room was electric, she got a standing ovation. Such contributions mean  there is a record and legacy of her work, with her strong voice living on. Here are links to just a small selection of some of the media pieces Laura contributed to:

*Featured in the Guardian:

*The Irish Times:

*On rights not rescue

*As as guest columnist  for  Maggie McNeills blog ‘The Honest Courtesan”

*Supporting National Ugly Mugs in a short video:

*Giving evidence to the Northern Irish Justice Committee:

*Sister sex worker rights campaigner and broadcaster Charlotte-Rose created a special edition of her Radio show with a moving testimony to Laura. Watch or listen to it at:

What has shone through the tributes to Laura, alongside her massive contribution to the struggle for  social justice for sex workers, is the warmth, kindness, courteous and generosity of spirit with which she related to others. Laura has left a legacy of sex worker rights activism that will continue to inspire the BtG team and many others,  we honor you.  At this time our thoughts and condolences are with her daughter, family, friends & the sex work community.

N.B. you can give to help with funeral costs and to provide some finaicial help to her family via Just Giving:

Reflections on International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers 2017

About International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers &  BtG Video to Mark the Day

‘International Day to end Violence Against Sex Workers’  #IDEVASW was created to call attention to hate crimes committed against sex workers and to remember those who have been victims of violent crimes, particularly murder.    It was originally created by the Sex Workers Outreach Project in the US as a memorial and vigil for the victims of the “Green River Killer” in Seattle Washington. It has grown to be a global event, where sex workers, sex work support projects and their allies  come together in towns and cities around the world to remember sex workers who have experienced violence,  to highlight the need for sex worker rights to safety and protection to be respected and enshrined in laws and polices and to challenge stigma, criminalisation and laws which undermine sex worker safety and contribute to violence.   To read more about the day go to:

Matt Valentine-Chase a member of the BtG team has produced a short slideshow video for BtG to mark 17th December 2017

Posted by Matt Valentine-Chase on Saturday, 16 December 2017

Last year on 17th December we wrote about how  whilst acknowledging that most commercial sex interactions go without harassment and violence research indicates that sex workers are more at risk from targeted harassment and violence than the general public and many other occupational groups – this has been confirmed in research carried out this year by London School and Health and Tropical Medicine and the University of Leicester in relation to homicide, based on data available to the researchers. You can read a summary briefing about that research at:

We also postulated in last years blog that based on a number of studies we have carried out on sex work over the years, that it is important to unpack the nuances about which groups of sex workers experience violence, at what level and in what forms – in order to appropriately develop laws  and policies to prevent violence against sex workers. We identified the  three key elements informed by our research which allow for differences in the research evidence on the levels of violence between sectors and across different jurisdictions. These elements are the different locational and organisational factors which shape safety across sectors,  the relationship to the state of particular forms of sex work (i.e. it’s legal status, the extent to which it is criminalised and how those laws are enforced) and finally stigma, social status, and the ‘othering’ of sex workers  which increase hostility, hate crime and violence.  We also wrote about the need for an intersectional approach to make sense of sex workers varying experiences of hate crime  including for example the increased proportion of migrant sex workers amongst those sex workers who have been victims of murder in  recent years in the UK. Sadly this trend has continued in 2017, the one sex worker who we are aware has been a victim of  murder in the UK in 2017,  was Romina Kalachi  in London, her nationality was Romanian.

We also drew attention to the increasing proportion of UK  based sex worker murder victims who worked within the online and indoor settings, after a decade in which the majority of victims had been street workers. Also to research, which BtG aimed to build upon, which had turned it’s attention to online sex workers experience of crime,  carried out by  Prof Teela Sanders from the BtG team with other colleagues  Dr Laura Connelly and Laura Jarvis-King  published in in Sociological Research Online  It’s to the Beyond the Gaze research we now turn.

Solidarity & Reflection on research findings

On #IDEVASW 2017, as well as standing in solidarity with sex workers in the UK, supporting activities and campaigning activities being carried out by our partner organisations an other contributors to Beyond the Gaze, we have been reflecting on some of the findings from Beyond the Gaze. BtG is a participatory action research project and is the largest UK study to date of  internet sex work, focusing on the safety, working conditions and regulation of  internet based sex work (encompassing both in person and tech enables services).

Two very important aspects of our wider research activities carried out between 2015 and March 2017 have been interviews with internet based sex workers and also an online survey of people who work in the online sector. We were honoured that many people working in online sex work took time to take part in our anonymous and confidential sex work research survey and this meant, with 641 people taking part, we have the largest UK survey not only of online sex workers but of workers in any sector of the UK sex industry carried out to date.

BtG Findings on Safety and Crime

Some of the findings relating to safety and crimes against sex workers have been published in a book ‘Internet sex work’ based on our finding which was published in November 2017  More finding and analysis will be published in 2018  in journal articles and briefings following the launch in late January 2018.






In Beyond the Gaze we found that online and digital technologies played an important role within internet based sex worker’s safety practices. Online facilitated methods, such as screening through digital tools feature in many worker’s safety repertoires, often combined with non-digital ‘old school’ methods most of which pre-date the online sex work revolution. Online and digital technology has provided new opportunities for sex workers to improve screening and wider safety routines, indeed in the growing body of international research about internet mediated sex work the ability of technology to improve screening and safety is a salient theme (Ashford 2009; Cunningham and Kendall 2011; Peppet 2013; Ray 2007). Our  research highlighted how online platforms, applications and smart phone technology have been keenly used by online sex workers in the UK as a core part of  safety strategies  employed.

In our survey reports of sexual assault (including rape) were relatively low with 7.6 per cent (n=49) having experienced this in the last year and 19.5 per cent (n=125) per cent in the last five years, 77.7 per cent had not experience this in the last five years. Physical assault was reported at a lower level:  5 per cent (n=32) had experienced this in the last year and 12.9 per cent (n=83) in the last five years. Significantly, 84.4 per cent (n=541) had not experience assault in the last five years.  These levels are lower than those amongts surveys of street sex workers, but they are not negligible and there are three key points to caveat the possible improvement in risks and environment for sex workers  in the online sector that we wanted to draw attention to on 17th Dec.
  • Comparing these levels to workplace violence experienced in our sample to data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (Office for National Statistics 2016) suggests online sex workers experience higher levels of work related violence, with 1.3 per cent of women and 1.5 per cent of men having been victims of violence at work during the previous year. From our survey, threats of violence had been experienced by 12.6 (n=81) per cent of respondents in the last year and one quarter of workers during the last five years (25 per cent n=160), 72.9 (n=467) per cent had not experienced this.
  • Sanders, Grenfell et al  (2017) found (based on analysis of available data on sex worker homicides and comparative date for other professions) that sex workers are amongst one of the most likely groups of occupational workers to be murdered.  They also found changes in the composition of murders against sex workers in the past twenty years, with the trend  changing from greater risk being on the street, to more murders happening in indoor premises over the last five years. Read more at:
  • A  significant finding of BtG research was the high levels of digitally facilitated crime experienced by people in this sector. The most commonly identified crime type experienced by people in our survey was persistent or repeated/unwanted contact or attempts to contact through email, text or social media: 45.12 per cent had experienced this in the last year, 65.1 (n=417) in the last five, just under one third 34.2 per cent (n=219) had not experienced this over five years.  This was followed by threatening or harassing texts, calls or emails with 36.3 per cent (n=233) experiencing this in the last year, 56.2 per cent (n=360) in the last five years, with 42.7 (n=274) per cent not experiencing this in the last five years.  Both these crime types can form part of harassment and stalking.

So technology as well as presenting safety benefits can also be used to facilitate crimes against sex workers, generating new harms and presenting greater risk of exposure and privacy violations. Key digital risks for people in our survey included:

  • Online harassment, stalking and persistent unwanted behaviour through phone or computer mediated communication.
  • Violations of security online in terms of exposure of profiles, personal information, outing and threats of outing, plus other threats to privacy.
  • Commercial vulnerability in terms of profiles or content being used by others, deleted, or temporarily turned off by platforms, rendering business precarious and fragile.
  • Economic instability due to the changing nature of policing, the potential for platforms, or work spaces to be closed due to national policing interventions or platform managers changing forum rules/functions/payment system which can impact on sex workers, and the long-term threat from possible changes to legislation such as making it a crime to pay for sex.


We  argue that in the UK there is a legal and policy failure to recognise sex work as a form of employment/self-employment, which contributes to the stigmatisation of sex work and prevents individuals working together. Current UK policy disallows a framework for employment laws and health and safety standards to regulate sex work, leaving sex workers in the shadow economy, their safety at risk in a quasi-legal system.   As ‘Internet sex work’  concludes:

‘The online commercial sex revolution provides opportunities for work, empowerment, flexibility and freedom for some, but equally the concerns over precarity of employment, criminalisation, exploitation and lack of protection  if sex workers become victims of crime. 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’. (Sanders et al. 2017)

Rosie Campbell and Teela Sanders

On Behalf of the Beyond the Gaze Team






Managing The Work-Life Balance In The Sex Industry

Reflections on work-life balance, safety and emotional health for internet sex workers.

By Matt Valentine-Chase

Sex workers experience’s in the industry vary greatly and as such different workers will manage their working lives differently. I am going to try and look at the work-life balance for sex workers from a wide angle, but bear in mind my experience has been mainly working in the independent online sector. Some of the more obvious and industry-standard advice  will be covered in other posts here on Beyond the Gaze and also in the project’s forthcoming safety information and advice  (excited dot com, stay tuned). This post will resonate with some, not others but do remember that sex work is a diverse profession so this is just one way of looking at managing the work-life balance for sex workers, with a little safety stuff thrown in.

It is a common misconception that all sex work is dangerous. If you work in the business, you are probably tired of hearing ‘is that safe?’ ‘Well you make sure you look after yourself’ and the like. It depends where you work in the industry but here we are looking at escorts, cammers, adult performers and doms. One of the main and more frequent obstacles with working in the business is actually the proverbial timewaster, many workers will tell you this, but yes whilst the majority of bookings go without incident some people do target sex workers and commit crimes against them, as Beyond the Gaze found online sex workers particularly reported  digitally facilitated crimes such as threatening or harassing texts, calls or emails.  So safety is important, as it is in other work places and needs to be looked at too.

Safety in the job is more than how you screen and making sure you book the ‘right’ clients. It is also about how we manage our physical and emotional health whilst working and this includes quality down time. Some workers do this by making sure they have set days off, some find peer support helpful, a healthy and helpful leisure life, adequate exercise and pretty much the same activities that any worker (in any business) needs in order to perform well at work and manage stress.

Some workers I have spoken to, and from my own experience in the industry some find that ‘day jobs’ or ‘mainstream jobs’ also help them to balance their working lives. I am taking a risk here but do bare with me, it also helps them to keep one foot in reality (more on this in a moment). Many sex workers understand, sadly, the stigma that comes with the job. This can lead to isolation and what I call internalised whorephobia. This can have a massive impact on how sex workers see themselves and how they fit into society. Let me just reach out to you for a moment and tell you that you do fit into society and you are making a contribution. It’s really important to value the work that you do but yes it is also important to look at the unique challenges that your profession brings.

Sex work can be very unpredictable in many ways. The income can be in abundance one minute and scarce the next. Most people outside of the industry think that escorts (as an example) are rich because of the hourly rates they usually charge. What fewer people know is that sometimes sex workers can go weeks, sometimes months, without a single booking and so the abundant period needs to fund the scarce times too. This unpredictability is often managed really well by the experienced worker and they either learn how to manage this like any other self employed business person and/or they also take on a mainstream job for some security and to keep their sense of reality. Again, I’ve taken a risk so let me tell you why I say this:

Most workers know that a part of sex work is creating a fantasy for the client. It is a beautiful, in my opinion, aspect of the job. There is a certain mystery and secrecy (which isn’t always a good thing but it can be) to the escort-client relationship. Clients in the main trust sex workers. They know that they are professionals and experts in their fields. They understand that confidentiality is a part of the job, no different to any profession where the client is sharing their personal needs and experiences with a professional. From doms (workers who specialise in domination or the full BDSM fetish) to escorts and courtesans (a very high class escort) to strippers and cammers – to most sex work IS work and thus you would follow any protocols and procedures that help you to do your job and to stay as safe as possible. I compare it to being a therapist deciding on whether or not a particular client is right for you. This raises a few eyebrows but often by people who just don’t get it. Right, back to the fantasy…

I love speaking to sex workers and revel in learning more about how different workers manage their work and personal lives. What often comes up is the need to have down time and to disconnect from the fantasy. Sex workers have bills to pay, family to take care of, children to bring up and for some day or other jobs to go to. Some of us can’t do this if our heads are still in the sex work.  So what do some of  us  do? We develop strategies to unplug ourselves from the vibrant, often colourful and sometimes stressful world of the sex industry. We sometimes only do out calls (that takes us away from our home so we can keep that just for us), we rent separate premises for work purposes, we make sure that we do our day jobs on a separate day from our sex work (nothing worse than going to the office with an ‘out call bag’ full of goodies fearful the contents will spill). Many workers who I have spoken to and from my own delightful dance with the sex industry have learned one valuable thing – always remind yourself that the you who goes to work is not necessarily the same you who returns home. I have lost count of how many sex workers have told me ‘you’ve got to separate the two…. It can take over if you don’t… it’s such a full-on job that you have to take care of yourself and remove yourself from it sometimes’. Now, that is possibly no different from any job that is full-on and stressful but for me and  many people I’ve spoken to (not everyone will agree and that’s okay) the fantasy aspect of the job makes it somewhat unique. So to be aware of this – I think is helpful. That is perhaps one of the reasons why some workers choose to do mainstream jobs aside their sex work. It keeps them grounded. There could be another post on juggling mainstream and sex work but I think this is enough for now. I hope it helps and whoever you are and whatever profession you’re in – you’re doing a great job.

Author: Matt Valentine-Chase

Matt is a qualified therapist who coaches and as a former escort he uses his experience in the industry to counsel and support professional sex workers. He is a researcher for Beyond the Gaze and has contributed to the project from its start, advising on design and helped to produce the forthcoming safety and privacy information for sex workers based on the research.

Please note all our blogs are the views of the author/s and do not necessarily represent the views of the Beyond the Gaze Team and the institutions the team are linked to.

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:



Modern Technology and Sex Workers – How the digital age has made sex working safer

Velvet Venus reflects on how online and digital technology has shaped sex working, particularly safety, during the years she has been escorting.

 I first started sex work in the late nineties when I became an escort; I was 49, a real late starter. During the time I worked as an escort the advent and improvements in technology especially in communications have improved security and safety greatly – well almost.

Offices used computers and had the Internet but very few people had a computer at home, so not many used the internet or email and there was no Wi-Fi.  Mobile phones were going strong but very basic and calls from landlines to mobiles were expensive.  1990smobile

Starting to ‘work’ I found an agency in the Yellow Pages and joined, sent my photos in and waited for the phone to ring.  The agency would screen the clients calling in and would pass their details onto me but years later I realised this did not always happen, much to my peril, so I became an independent escort, then I had more control, the screening was up to me.

Working as an independent escort I would never take a booking from a mobile number, there was no way to check out who  clients were, or to verify  an address against their mobile numbers, especially as I often did outcalls. I advertised in a local free paper, along with many others.   Even putting my home landline down but soon I got a second mobile, just for work which was untraceable,  that still works well today.

Having a landline for clients to call was popular so I had a second landline put in my house, this was classed as a Business line and I was then able to go into Yellow Pages.  I had to make my advertisement read as an escort agency and when a client rang me, I would say, ‘the others are all out at the moment but I’m available if you like’.  The clients seem to like that, the girl who answers the phone, finally gets the chance to do a booking!  How naughty was that?  That really did work very well as all the city hotels had Yellow Pages in every room.

Then a friend took some sexy photos of me and built my own website, he said ‘the Internet was made for porn’.  He was right. I had my own website and could now promote myself online.  I did not know anything about search engines or how to make your website appear on the first page of Google till much later and when I got a stat counter on my site I was thrilled to see my site was being viewed all around the world – not that it brought me much business initially but clients do travel. I had business cards printed with my web address and proudly gave them to new clients. Nowadays, my website is very important to my work, I now don’t have too give much information over the phone, my website says it all.websitecounter2


Now as mobile phones are used for virtually all bookings, this is the only thing I did find was a bigger problem than before.  A clients address and landline can be checked on BT Phone Book website and a mobile will also show but some clients do not have a landline.  Pay as You Go mobiles are untraceable, so the screening of a client is almost impossible but not if you get the credit/debit card involved.  I did use a very well-known payment website to take payments from my clients but in their Terms and Conditions they do not accept sex workers payments.  I’d naively put their link on my website, my account was closed but  thankfully I did not lose any money.  So I always check the ‘small print’, there are card processors now, not in the UK, who will accept sex workers payments, the commission is high but I find it’s worth doing. A client recently saw my website, noticed I took credit cards and said this gave him confidence to book me. I would say the best advance in technology is being able to accept credit cards on my own website.


Just recently I’ve found a gift list website which is easy to register your list, my clients’ gift is sent to me without the client knowing my address.  The company will also process money gifts too, so I’m now using this for some of my fee transactions, they do take quite a high commission but it’s well worth it.  They are aware of your business so there is less  risk of your account being closed.  The site takes a client’s correct name and address as I request a small deposit from a new client, or for an advance booking.  This confirms my clients’ address so now have the security for my outcall and it feels highly confidential for both parties.  It’s not one hundred percent fool proof though, for example the card details given can belong to someone else,  a  young man stole his father’s credit card and used it to pay for his hotel room and to book me.  I did not realise until the police called me!  I was honest with them and they treated me well.


More modern technology – the webcam, great invention- it means a sex worker  can make big money from the safety of their own home.  Although when I saw a neighbor pop up, it did put me off webcamming.  Also portable cameras can be tiny now and can be used to covertly film a session with a sex worker.  That’s a really difficult problem; I feel my intuition is the best here, I always move items on a unit in line with the bed and if our ‘position’ is bothering my client too much, then I’m wary.

Other technologies like Sat Navs are practical and reassuring.  No more getting lost or finding a sudden diversion and then not having a clue where I was going, especially at night.  A must for any sex worker who does outcalls.

Overall, I’d say technology has made huge improvements for sex workers  but I do spend a lot of time processing and researching information.  In the ‘good old days’ it was simpler but I was more vulnerable to the risks.  Today the risks are still there but I’m much more aware and better prepared with the help of modern day technology.

© Velvet Venus 2017


Please note all our blogs are the views of the author/s and do not necessarily represent the views of the Beyond the Gaze Team.

International Day to End Violence Against Sex workers – reflecting on change & continuity in patterns of crimes against sex workers


To mark International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers 2016 Beyond the Gaze team members Dr Rosie Campbell and Professor Teela Sanders, from Department of Criminology, University of Leicester, reflect on change and continuity in patterns of violent and other crimes against sex workers.

As International Day to end Violence against sex workers is marked across the globe on 17th December  we wanted to reflect on the continued high levels of targeted violence and hate crime committed against sex workers and also some of the changing trends in crimes experienced by sex workers as sex work itself changes, as do wider crime patterns.   As Beyond the Gaze is focusing on the working conditions, safety and regulation of internet based sex work in the UK the safety and crime issues faced by people working in the online sector are very much on our minds.

Whilst it is important to stress that most commercial sex interactions go without harassment and violence research indicates that sex workers are more at risk from targeted harassment and violence than the general public and many other occupational groups – these risks varying according to sex working sectors, with many studies showing  higher levels of violence against street sex workers. A systematic review of research on the correlates of violence against sex workers globally was carried out by Dr Kathleen Deering  (University of British Columbia) and a team of researchers. This was  published in the American Journal of Public Health  in 2014 and  they  reported that workplace violence over a lifetime was recorded by 45 to 75% of sex workers, with 32% to 55% experienced violence in the last year.

We have researched violence against sex workers for some years and argued in an editorial for a special edition of Criminology and Criminal Justice in 2015 that within this global context it is important to unpack the nuances about which groups of sex workers experience violence, at what level and in what forms in order to appropriately develop laws  and policies to prevent violence against sex workers .

In our research we have found that the relationship between sex work and violence is shaped by three key elements which allow for differences in the research evidence on the levels of violence between sectors and across different jurisdictions. Firstly, the environment /spaces in which sex work takes place, this acknowledges the different locational and organisational factors which shape safety across sectors.  Secondly, the relationship to the state, that is  where a particular form of sex work sits in the regulatory systems, it’s legal status, how and the extent to which it is criminalised and how those laws are enforced.  For example, in legal frameworks that criminalise sex work or have quasi criminalisation with some activities associated with sex work  criminalised, a  difficult context is created where it is hard to gain sex worker confidence and trust in the police. When the police are involved in arresting sex workers, their clients or others who work with sex workers and are also the organisation sex workers must look to for protection and to report crime it is challenging for trust in the police to be achieved. This leads to a number of things including the under-reporting of crimes against sex workers, leaving offenders  free to commit further crime and fueling a belief held by some offenders who commit crimes against sex workers that they will get away with their crimes, one of the reasons they target sex workers.



Thirdly, stigma, social status, and the ‘othering’ of sex workers increases hostility and violence.  There is a considerable consensus in the global sex work literature that sex workers are  stigmatised and this is a central part of the ‘othering’ and objectification of sex workers which researchers have  argued contributes to social exclusion, generates hostility and contributes to the denial of full rights and a lack of protection from victimisation. Findings from research  show that adopting policing approaches which recognise  crimes against sex workers as hate crime contributes to improving criminal justice responses to crimes against sex workers, hence we support such an approach. We support an intersectional approach to hate crime which recognises the varied experiences of hate crime that  sex workers have, not only based on experiences of hostility and targeting by offenders  because of their sex working but also other aspects of social identity such as race, nationality, gender and sexual identity.  For example migrant sex workers may experience targeted crime related to their race or national identity intersected with their sex work status.


One of the reasons for 17th December is to remember those people in sex work who have been murdered.  In the UK  public imagination when sex worker murder is discussed, people tend to recall the serial murders of  street sex workers such as the five women  tragically murdered in Ipswich ten years ago, Gemma Adams, Tania Nichol, Anneli Alderton, Annette Nicholls and Paula Clennell.   Since those murders in Ipswich 42 sex workers in the UK have been murdered who  are recorded on the database maintained by National Ugly Mugs (NUM).  A  concerning trend  in the murder statistics is the increase in the proportion of sex workers murdered who are migrants. If we take  the period from October 2013 to the last know sex worker murder in  February 2016, 56% of the eighteen people murdered  were migrants,  compared to 0% of the twenty one people murdered  between January  2007 and  December 2012. This we argue is not just reflecting an increased proportion of  migrant people working in the UK sex industry but also reflects the intersection of  targeted anti migrant and  sex work hate crime, with such crimes fueled by hostility towards sex workers and migrants and offenders targeting the ‘perceived vulnerability’ of migrant sex workers.

Another distinct  trend  for the same period October 2013 to February 2016  is that of the eighteen  people who were  murdered,  56%  worked indoor/online,  28%  worked on the  street.  (Please note for 16% how they worked was recorded as not known in the NUM  data base). Now compare this to UK sex workers murdered during 2007-2012 21 people were murdered,  71% worked on  street,  24% worked indoor/online and  5%  street and indoor, indicating an increase in the proportion of  indoor/online sex workers who were murdered.    Since 17th December 2016 the NUM database records three murders of sex workers in the UK,  Daria Pionko in Leeds, Georgina Symonds  in Newport and Jessica McGraa in Aberdeen.  Jessica and Georgina worked in escorting and Daria on the streets. So the issue of violence against sex workers and other crimes are very relevant for the online sector.  Indeed as the online sector is the largest sector of the sex industry in UK it is no surprise that those who target sex workers also target people working in this sector.

This has also been highlighted by findings from a survey of  240 internet based sex workers funded by the Wellcome Trust carried out by  our own Prof Teela Sanders  in partnership with National Ugly Mugs in 2015.  This found that some online sex workers reported crimes  similar to sex workers  in other sectors,  but it also flagged up a number of crimes linked to online and digital technology which had been experienced by internet based sex workers. Some headline findings and recommendations from that research are;

  • Levels of concern about crime varied: but 49% were either ‘fairly worried’ or ‘very worried’ about experiencing crime related to their sex work.
  • 47% had experienced crime in their sex work – the types of which are shown in the chart below.
  • For those working in the online sector new forms of targeted crime were evident. The most common crimes experienced by those people who responded to the survey (86 out of 240) were digitally facilitated which included threatening & harassing texts/calls/emails plus verbal abuse.



  • Sex workers also reported incidents of robbery, rape, physical assault and attempted abduction. Removal of condoms without sex worker consent was the most commonly report non digital crime reported
  • Half of respondents (49%) were either ‘unconfident’ or ‘very unconfident’ that the police will take crimes against them seriously
  • Safety could be improved through decriminalisation, which would allow sex workers to work together, break down stigma , allow for development of improved trust in police and improved public protection policing for sex workers. The action that could improve safety most identified by sex workers taking part was decriminalisation.

If you want to read more about the research go to a summary  or read ‘On our own terms’  published recently in Sociological Research Online

Good news  for 2017 the Wellcome Trust are also  funding a  research project which will compare the experiences of violence and mental health amongst sex workers with other ‘risky’ occupational groups. This will be carried out by Professor Teela Sanders  with  Dr Lucy Platt and Pippa Greenfell at the London School of Tropical Medicine, working in partnership with NUM.

It was the lack of research data not only on issues of safety for internet based sex workers  but about the sector generally, despite it being the largest sector in the UK, that lead Teela with our colleague Prof Jane Scoular at Strathclyde University to apply for the grant from the Economic and Social Research Council which is now supporting Beyond the Gaze.

One element of the larger BTG  project is looking at safety and crime issues for internet based sex workers. Sex workers have been sharing their experiences and views about these in research interviews carried out during 2016. These interviews are still being interviewed but the key crimes people are describing include; online email and phone/SMS harassment & abuse, stalking (in person and online) threats to out, outing,  doxing (i.e.  unauthorised use of information which may be images, profile hacking and private information), computer hacking,  none payment by customers, fraud, physical assault, rape and sexual assault.

These findings  are set against a back drop were national crime reporting is paying more attention to cyber crime.  The Crime Survey for England and Wales, published by the Office for National Statistics for the end of year March 2016 included questions on fraud and computer misuse crime. It estimated that  there had been 3.8 million fraud and 2.0 million computer misuse offences experienced in the 12 months prior to interview. A Senior statistician from ONS commented “This is the first time we have published official estimates of fraud and computer misuse from our victimisation survey… Together, these offences are similar in magnitude to the existing headline figures covering all other Crime Survey offences. However, it would be wrong to conclude that actual crime levels have doubled, since the survey previously did not cover these offences. These improvements to the Crime Survey will help to measure the scale of the threat from these crimes, and help shape the response.” John Flatley, Crime Statistics and Analysis, Office for National Statistics.


Our online sex worker survey has a section on issues of safety and crime, this  survey is  building  on the Wellcome Trust survey carried out by Teela.   Our BTG  survey is live until 31st January 2017 and it’s really important that we get a large number of   sex workers, working in all aspects of internet based sex work, to take  part so we have a solid body of data about the online sector,  including  about experiences of crime and safety, to inform policy and practice.  We have the help of many online advertising platforms, sex workers, other individuals and organisations helping us promote the survey – thank you we couldn’t do it without you! So please take 10 mins to complete the survey  if  you work in the sex industry,  whether you’re a web cam model, escort, pro-dom, BDSM specialist, sensual masseur , provider of phone sex we need your help!  This link will take you directly to the survey  If  you don’t work in the sector but know people who do, please promote the survey.

Next year we’ll be writing up and sharing findings on internet based sex work and safety. We’ll also be working with sex workers, NUM and sex work projects to produce online safety info based on research findings. So we hope Beyond the Gaze will be able to make a significant contribution to improving knowledge about internet based sex work in the UK including matters of safety and crime for people working in the sector. We hope this can help inform the development of effective law and policy for reducing crimes against sex workers and improving safety and working conditions.



The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the those of the authors, they do necessarily reflect the views of  the University of Leicester or the University of Strathclyde. 


My introduction to webcam as sexual commerce

My introduction to the use of webcam as a form of sexual commerce was a touch unusual. My friend Sally* was doing an MA in textiles, using patchwork in order to explore BDSM. She had made contact with a locally based dominatrix and had arranged to interview her, a touch apprehensive she asked me to accompany her to the interview.

The Dominatrix, Vicky*, was working out of a large Victorian terraced house close to where Sally and I live. It is a house I walk past everyday on my way to the train station and its neat appearance and total conformity with the other houses in the road meant that I had never paid it any attention at all. When we arrived we were greeted at the door by Vicky’s mum, who whispered for us to be quiet as Vicky was working. We waited in the hallway until she had finished and were ushered into the room that Vicky was working in. Vicky was not alone, there was an almost naked man in a cage and besides her on the sofa sat a transsexual woman named Janet*. It transpired that we had arrived while the trio were live streaming a domination session via a webcam. At the same time the session was being video recorded using a separate camera.  It was a scheduled show that had lasted an hour and she had earned just over £130 for that hour by transmitting live via the website. She had also earned a fee from the submissive who had agreed to be humiliated and beaten by Vicky and Janet. The video recording was so that Vicky could upload the session to the clips4sale website and so make yet more revenue from this one encounter. This was in 2011 and since then Vicky and I have remained friends and as I got to know her I realised just how resourceful and smart Vicky was.

Vicky was introduced to webcamming by her sister and had really run with it, she had experimented with different themes and specialities and had quickly realised that she had a talent for both submission and domination. She acquired a substantial amount of equipment and eventually started to meet in real time with some of her regulars. The transwoman Janet was also a submissive and she too webcammed. Even Vicky’s mum, Dawn*, in her 50’s  subsidised her benefits with webcamming. Vicky carried on camming for several years after we first met and in that time she worked hard to escape the poverty that had made camming an attractive employment option for her. She was able to buy a car, take her kids on holidays and rent a second property so she no longer needed to work from home. She was doing very well for some time but things turned sour when Vicky met a new partner decided to move herself and her kids in with him. The relationship deteriorated rather rapidly and she was forced to take refuge in a hostel for women experiencing domestic violence and the kids moved in with her mum. Having lost her confidence as well as all her equipment when she left her abusive partner, she did not feel comfortable enough to resume webcamming but she did use instant messaging (IM) via the website. IM is the exchange of text using webcam technology but without the visual, think Skype without video. Although this does not pay as well as webcamming she was eventually able to save the deposit for a flat and was able to slowly rebuild her life.

Vicky no longer webcams, she has studied, trained and is now working in a totally unrelated industry. Despite the very few resources available to Vicky as a single parent in an area of deprivation it would be very hard to create a victim out of someone as entrepreneurial and savvy as Vicky. She was able to work her way out of poverty and improve the quality of life for both herself and her children using webcamming, later she was able to use this form of sexual labour to rebuild her life after her involvement with a violent partner. The lack of feminist led moral panic around the use of webcam as a form of sexual labour has allowed a form of sex work to evolve which isn’t infused with the presumption of victimhood and abuse. Vicky’s experience of sex work using webcam is nuanced and has provided me with an opportunity to study a form of post-industrial sex work that has yet to be taken up by radical feminism.

Rachel Stuart, PhD researcher at the University of Kent

*All names have been changed.

Please note all our blogs are the views of the author  and do not necessarily represent the views of the Beyond the Gaze Team.


False photographic consciousness: the visual war on sex work.

One thing that has struck me about trying to gain an academic understanding of the role photography plays in the online transaction of sex is how dismissive prohibitionists are of photography, and the role photography plays in encouraging the sense that the only way of interpreting their lives is to see them as ripe for ‘rescue.’    Prohibitionist photography acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy. The anti sex work lobby creates the visual rescue narrative that gives legitimacy to saving sex workers from themselves.

Whoretography ( sits nicely at the intersection of imagery, technologies, society & the sex worker rights movement, and no discussion of sex worker visual representation is complete without understanding the way prohibitionists wield photography as a weapon in the prohibitionist war on sex work.

You see, to believe the prohibitionist lobby is to believe in the irrelevance of photography to the sex work debate. The only photographic truth is the prohibitionist photographic truth, and it’s been my experience that prohibitionists are quick to tow the visual party line.   They are dismissive of  Whoretography and the relevance of photography to the sex work debate.  A much tried and tested prohibitionist tactic is to label anyone critiquing prohibition photography as nothing more than laziness and nitpicking.  If you want evidence of such,  just see the vitriolic language directed at sex workers for calling out prohibitionist imagery.

Gonzalo Arévalo’s work has all the hallmarks of anti-sex-work visual rhetoric.  It accompanied an article on marital infidelity; It is a brilliant example of visual propaganda from a powerful anti-sex work lobby who dismiss the importance of sex work visual depictions.   Are we to believe that illustrations do not matter?  That their carefully crafted image choice is not part of a visual war raging against sex workers?  To quote the prohibitionists, I am not buying it.


Copyright Gonzalo Arévalo

The French anti prostitution organisation Mouvement du Nid, created a fake escort website ( with the aim of deterring men from paying for sex. The site a perfect example of why the dead whore is such a powerful visual marketing tool.   Mouvement du Nid argue they are fighting violence against sex workers by using violent images, completely oblivious and ignorant to the way photography gives justification to the violence Mouvement du Nid claim to want to stop.   So ignorant,  they celebrated upon being awarded a prestigious advertising award for doing nothing more than promoting a stereotype.  For an organisation that purports to save sex workers, an image of a dead prostitute is essential for bringing in cash donations.

Copyright Mouvement du Nid

The Salvation Army also understands the financial benefits of maintaining the visual status quo. They were forced to make a public apology after sex workers complained over the representation that vilified them as bad mothers.  Although the Salvation Army issued an apology over the offensive material, other campaigns that visually depict sex worker as hapless deviants continue to form   part of their fund raising strategy.

Copyright The Salvation Army

These  photographs above encapsulate the formulaic prohibitionist approach to the visual representation of sex work.  Dark alley, street walker leaning into the car, robotic fallen woman robbed of agency, distressed child, always unseen predatory male, bad mother, battered corpse.  A sense of desperation and the wafting smell of cocaine, heroin, lube and baby oil hangs heavy in the cinematic tones. The prohibitionist lobby argues that to discuss sex work photography is just laziness, that photographs do not matter and if this is the case, then it is a remarkable coincidence that the above photographs taken from prohibitionist websites epitomise stigmatising rhetoric.

The majority of articles written about sex work are accompanied by a picture of outdoor sex work, regardless if the written words discuss indoor sex work.   The media portrayal of sex work is just as lazy as the prohibitionists.  Going to a stock photo agency website and typing prostitution hardly makes one a photo editor.  On the other hand, if you believe photography matters to the war on sex then one may argue the anti lobby image selection is inspired and to be admired.  After all, if I were a former sex worker (as some high profile prohibitionists are) seeking to align myself with the other side of the virgin/whore dichotomy, I would have chosen these picture as well.

This prohibitionist attitude towards photography is not uncommon, nor is their denial that the camera is an agent of violence wielded against sex workers.  To talk about sex worker imagery is just nit-picking. A standard reaction from those who do not understand the photographic theory,  visual identity and that photography is inextricably interwoven into sex work identities, narratives, and society.

At times, I believe prohibitionists are not aware they are perpetuating visual rhetoric; they suffer from a false photography consciousness.  So in awe of their visual rhetoric, they believe it to be the truth.  Denial is handy if you seek to indoctrinate people with exclusionary feminist visual violence.   A well-lit and well-edited photograph makes the rescue narrative hard to sell.  Prohibitionists are not immune to the use of Adobe software. Gonzalo Arévalo’s illustration is an example of this. Prohibitionists often argue that airbrushing and photoshop have gentrified sex work.  However, if Photoshop has edited out the lower class reality of sex work, then they need only to present unedited photographs to show the class narrative that sex workers apparently remove via a Photoshop gentrification tool. If to talk about sex work photos is irrelevant, then why do prohibitionist use editing software?  Why do they use photography at all?

If prohibitionists were honest, photographically speaking, they would acknowledge that what offends them the most is that the digital democratising of photography has robbed the middle-class masses of their control over photography and image dissemination.   A photographic revolution has taken place, and sex workers are discouraged from participating in it. The Photo-shopped gentrification of sex work is an argument designed to keep sex workers away from the digital revolution.  Through photography’s new found accessibility, sex workers now have access to an unfettered form of communication; they can now challenge social constructs about their lives.  Sex workers are now image makers and it’s difficult for prohibitionists to control the visuals of sex work if sex workers themselves now have a photographic voice of their own. If war imagery has taught us anything, it’s that those who control the image also control the message and middle-class ladies who lunch cannot keep other women in line if they can’t control how wayward women are visually constructed.

It’s time prohibitionists were challenged on the social effects of the visual propaganda they circulate. Their lack of understanding of visual culture is matched only by their insistence that illustrations do not matter. They wilfully label photography as irrelevant to the sex workers rights debate and maliciously, perhaps dangerously, they seek to use photography to silence the voices, intentions, actions, feelings and the rights of sex workers.


Biography –

Camille Melissa is a Documentary Photographer, Masters Student, Sex Worker and Visual Activist interested in using photography to challenge the victim centred nature of sex worker imagery and how photography is instrumental in the war against sex workers.   Through Whoretography, she is challenging the prevailing ideology of sex-work and wants to present to the viewer an alternative perception of the industry and participants –  frequently obscured by one particular, narrow version of feminism, by anti-sex-work rhetoric and by modern Western cultural attitudes towards bodies and sex.   Her photographic and cyber ethnographic work is about stopping the over-simplification of the lives of sex workers, and to challenge current imagery that encourages the sense that the only way of interpreting their lives is to see them as ripe for ‘rescue.’  Through Whoretography, Camille is working on a new interpretation of sex work imagery that will help to change the visual landscape that informs political views that rob so many sex workers of autonomy.  She is currently publishing a series of books and e-magazines and is working towards secure funding to establish the first and only publishing house dedicated to using the visual medium of photo books to advance the rights of sex workers. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in biological sciences, postgraduate in criminology and is undertaking a Masters’s Degree in digital photography.


Please note all our blogs are the views of the author  and do not necessarily represent the views of the Beyond the Gaze Team.

The Power of the Word – the strength of instant connection


I received a telephone call on Christmas Day, it went something like this:

“Hi there I’ve just been reading your website. I’m calling to wish you a Happy Christmas”.

“Aw that’s lovely, thank you”

“I’m a straight Christian, I used to be homophobic”


“I notice from your website that you call what you do a caring profession and I agree. I used to have the wrong view of what escorts do, but I see that you work with everybody, regardless of what they look like or anything. I am a member of a pro-gay Christian group and am going to tell them this. I think you come across as very genuine”

“It’s lovely to hear that Sir thank you very much, I really appreciate it”

The conversation went on for some minutes with the gentleman telling me about the Bible and his views on sex work and homosexuality. The underpinning to everything he said to me was acceptance, understanding and compassion. He also demonstrated incredible insight, so far as him recognising that he used to be homophobic and that in the past he had a pre-conceived idea as to what sex workers did – without actually knowing what we do at all. Nothing unusual but what prompted his call? Why did he feel able to reach out to me instantly?

An online presence

A website can be huge in volume and extensive in the information you share with your audience. Whilst it might be there primarily to drum up business and to enable you to pay your bills – there is a lot more going on here. It can also be, as in this case, a means of education and direct communication. A medium wherein you can discuss absolutely anything from safer sex to spirituality to talking about history. I do all these things with my website but here’s the thing – I didn’t realise what effect this was having in the ‘real world’. Not until this encouraging call from a complete stranger.

This reminded me of the power of words and the incredible and instant response from online communication in a digital age. There’s an element of immediacy about this which possibly gave this gentleman the subliminal nod that it was okay to call me. Would he have responded so spontaneously had he read an article in a magazine? Maybe. The point is though, that the online world (and word) is instant. If you change your mind – you can delete it and start again. If you want to be brave enough to be yourself you can put it out there and see instant results, whether this is your intention or not.

There are of course down sides to online advertising and personal websites, but I will cover this at a later date in another blog post for Beyond the Gaze on personal websites pros and cons for sex workers. What I am saying to you here is really simple – know that you can make a difference in the world merely by sharing your story. The business of sex is very personal. It’s intimate. It stands to reason that our advertising can be the same. It is up to us how we word this, who we reach out to and who we ultimately book an appointment for but let’s just take the business out of the situation for a moment and say this:

Never give up – you never know who you’re inspiring.

Matt-at-Lotus is a sex coach who can be found at He has over twenty years experience in the adult industry and works with sex workers and the general public on sex, relationships and marketing.

*Some details have been changed slightly to protect privacy.


Please note all our blogs are the views of the author  and do not necessarily represent the views of the Beyond the Gaze Team.