Knowing What’s A Crime (incl. harassment and sexual assault) & What You Can Do

Knowing What’s a Crime

Whilst most bookings go without incident sex workers can be the targets of a range of crimes in their work and like all people can experience work-related crime. Most people are aware that certain things are a crime, for example physical assault, robbery and burglary. Yet people are less clear about crimes that have more recently entered law, some of these are forms of online or cybercrime, some of which, e.g. harassment, were the more commonly reported crimes experienced by sex workers in the BtG study. So, we’ve included some information about some of these and what you can do if you experience these. Being aware of what constitutes a crime puts you in a better position when considering your options and what you can do if you are a victim of such crimes.

What’s a Crime: Abusive Contact, Harassment, Stalking and Outing

Harassment what it is? It is a criminal offence for someone to harass you or put you in fear of violence. Harassment is a crime under the Protections from Harassment Act 1997. It is when a person behaves in a way which is intended to cause you distress or alarm. It is the distress element which makes it harassment, for example it has left you feeling nervous, anxious, thinking about it every day, feeling like you’re looking over your shoulder.

The behaviour must happen on more than one occasion, so if the initial contact is distressing that is the first incident. If there is a second incident, that then becomes harassment. So only two incidents of behaviour which cause alarm or distress are needed for someone to be harassed. It can be the same type of behaviour or different types of behaviour on each occasion, so for example a phone call and a text message may be harassment as can two phone calls. The incidents may be recent or could have happened months apart.

The law prohibits a person from pursuing a course of conduct which they know or ought to know amounts to the harassment of another. A person is taken to know that conduct is harassment if a reasonable person in possession of the same information would think the course of conduct amounted to the harassment of the other.

It has a maximum sentence of six months’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. Causing fear of violence has a maximum of five years’ imprisonment and/or a fine.

To read more about the law go to:

Can harassment be online?  YES, the harassing behaviour can be in person, over the phone, in answerphone messages, email on SMS or other messaging. So, texts, SMS, WhatsApp messages, Snapchat messages and anything else with harassing content count – all can be harassment. An incident of harassment can be a range of other things as well, for example standing outside your house, damaging your property and maliciously or falsely reporting you to the police when you have done nothing.

There is also a specific offence ‘Malicious Communications’, this makes it a crime to send a letter or any electronic communication which is indecent, grossly offensive, obscene or threatening which intends to cause distress or anxiety. One incident of this can constitute malicious communication.

Remember: whilst knowing the law on harassment and other crimes can empower you, the police don’t expect you to know the law and what crimes have happened to you. You can if you choose, contact the police and tell them what is happening to you or you can contact National Ugly Mugs.

Harassment: Dealing with Persistent, Unwanted and/or Abusive Communications


  • Initially it is often advised to not respond to the message/communication – it may encourage the sender or make the situation worse.
  • In phone, SMS, email and message communications you can say what is not acceptable for you if it persists, but be aware of the language you use, to prevent escalation.
  • When you face an initial incident of harassment it is acceptable for you to say you will not accept this and the client/enquirer could be reported for harassment. Set your boundaries. Remember the contact does not have to be abusive it just has to be unwanted.
  • Another option is to block or mark the user as spam – how to do this will vary on different phones/devices/apps/email services, but most have a filter/block function which means that you don’t need to see or receive calls or messages from specified numbers. Be aware though that the person may then use another number.
  • If the communication is via social media you can contact the social media provider and report it directly to them.
  • Keep a record of the contact – keep copies of letters, texts, emails, and screenshots of other forms of communication. This information helps to show the bigger picture and provides a record of what has been happening, should you report it.


Stalking what is it? Stalking has been a crime since 2012. Things which can be part of stalking include: following a person, watching or spying on them, forcing contact with the victim through any means, including social media. Victim Support describe stalking as: ‘persistent and unwanted attention that makes you feel pestered and harassed. It includes behaviour that happens two or more times, directed at or towards you by another person, which causes you to feel alarmed or distressed or to fear that violence might be used against you’.

The Digital Trust say that most stalking contains a digital or technical element. They describe cyber stalking in the following way: ‘stalkers who stalk offline will usually assist their activities with some form of technology as a tool e.g. mobile phones, social networks, computers or geolocation tracking. This can be characterised as “digitally assisted stalking”, as opposed to cyberstalking’. Abuse can take place over social networks/media, online forums.  

The Digital Trust describe the most common tactics for stalkers and bullies as:

  • Monitoring you and friends – looking at what you post, photos, where you go, who you go with, etc.
  • Spyware – putting spy software on your phone or computer, so they can track victims, listen in to conversations or see what’s going on via a webcam
  • Sending text messages – sending hurtful or threatening messages to you over and over again
  • Putting tracking devices on a victim’s car
  • Account takeovers/hacking – accessing your online accounts
  • Denigration – sending, posting, or publishing cruel rumours and untrue statements to damage your reputation
  • Distributing photos or videos – to embarrass you
  • Creating fake profiles or a website about the victims
  • Exclusion – contacting or inviting everyone but you
  • Flaming – posting an abusive response so everyone can see it
  • Outing – telling people something embarrassing about you
  • Threats and Dissemination – they threaten you and then tell everyone
  • Confidence tricks – getting you to reveal information about yourself and then using it against you
  • Impersonation – pretending to be the victim either online or via email, etc.
  • Spamming – signing the victim up for junk email
  • Trolling – say something online to get you to provoke you into responding
  • Bullying by proxy – getting others to join in
  • All these can be experienced by sex workers

For further information, advice and support on stalking you can contact:

Reporting Harassment and Stalking

There are a number of options if you want to report harassment and stalking:

Reporting to the police: harassment and stalking are criminal offences, if you think you have been targeted then you can report to the Police. This can be via 101 or in an emergency, 999.

Sharing information with the police: The police can record the harassment and this will help their intelligence systems – even if you don’t want to make a formal report or take things further it helps the police to know what has happened to you and can help other sex workers. This will help them investigate the harasser if they continue to do this in your case or if they harass someone else. You and other sex workers often don’t know who the harasser is or what their history is, but once the police check they may well be known to the police. And the more you report people anonymously or with a full report, the more harassers are in the police system!!  Reports made to NUM giving permission to pass on details of the harasser anonymously to police are useful to the police.

National Ugly Mugs: if you live or work in the UK you can report to NUM via the online reporting scheme or call tel: 0161629 9861, or email: if you want to talk to someone.

UglyMugsie: if you live or work in Ireland you can report to UglyMugsie.

Sex work support projects: you can report to a sex worker outreach or support service in your area. They can if you wish report this on your behalf to police or to National Ugly Mugs,  should you wish and give consent.

The National Stalking Helpline: can advise on reporting harassment or stalking 0808 802 030.

Remember: Online and in person abuse, harassment and stalking are s crimes and you should not have to tolerate them in your work. You have the right to report them to the police if you choose to do so. Third party reporting schemes like NUM and UglyMugsie very much encourage sex workers to report such incidents to them and seek support if they wish to receive it. Do not feel you are bothering the police or other organisations who you may report to. Harassment is a crime, it is the police’s job to take your report and investigate the crime! If you get an unsatisfactory response, call NUM for advice.

Outing: What to Do If You Are Threatened with Outing

Whilst ‘outing’ (when someone informs others, or publicly exposes, that you are sex working without your consent) and threats to out are not crimes in their own right, various offences may be committed. Outing or threatening to out sex workers can be part of criminal behaviour that meets the definition of harassment or may be part of blackmail.

If someone is threatening to out you, you can consider the following practical tips and options;

  • If you are receiving threats of outing or have been outed, remove as much identifiable advertising as you can. This can be practically beneficial but also provides a psychological crutch whilst you address the situation.
  • If possible take time off from work, this will give you some breathing space.
  • If your accommodation is at risk from being outed, it may be advisable to offer only out calls for a period or to tour away from any local issues.
  • Outing can be an upsetting situation for anyone in any branch of sex work. If possible seek support from someone who can support you through this time, some people look to peers or support services they use. Look at our resources section.
  • You can contact a local project, NUM or the police to speak to them about your situation. The outing or threats to out you may be part of criminal behaviour such as harassment or blackmail. They may be breaching data protection law by using your images or personal details without your consent. If crimes are being committed against you– consider reporting to NUM, police or complaining to the Office of the Information Commissioners Office where you can go for advice and to make a complaint about personal data breaches
  • To remove images that may have been used without your consent you can also try going down the copyright breach route.
  • If there has been a backlash from the outing – such as neighbours, clients or friends taking the outing badly – and they are behaving in a way that harasses or threatens you, again consider reporting to the police, or NUM.
  • Some sex workers choose to take a deny, deny, deny approach to being outed. If there are no identifiable images or evidence this can be a preferable option for some.
  • Something to note: families and loved ones can sometimes be upset or even angry when they find out a loved one is a sex worker. Try to remain calm and explain your own experience of sex work. Many sex workers who have either been outed or ‘come out’ have told us that the calmer they remained, the more positive the response. Some sex worker blogs and sites may also help loved ones understand what you are going through and how they can be accepting of your work.

What’s a Crime: Voyeurism and Revenge Porn

Voyeurism: filming, sharing photos and or videos without your consent is a crime.

Revenge porn: across England, Wales and Scotland, revenge porn is a criminal offence (in Northern Ireland, it is due to become law). Revenge porn is the sharing of private, sexual materials, either photos or videos, of another person without their consent and with the purpose of causing embarrassment or distress. The offence covers photos or videos showing people engaged in sexual activity which would not usually be done in public, or with their genitals, buttocks or breasts exposed or covered only with underwear. It includes sharing the material as well as posting it online.

Some tips that can support your privacy and safety could be:

  • Be aware of filming without your permission when in a booking: this can be done by laptops, computers, phones or hidden cameras. Be aware.
  • Key an eye on your customer’s phone to check they are not using it to film or positioning it to record you. Some may sell/share online or use it to try and blackmail you. Blackmail is a crime.
  • Some workers allow consensual filming during a booking. Be aware of the risks. Once the film is out there, it can be a challenge and, in some cases, impossible to control (say, if your client has saved it to their memory stick/hard drive).


The Revenge Porn Helpline  advises people who have experienced this to:

  • Make a record of what has been posted online, take screenshots of what you’ve found and where it’s been shared. Even if legal matters aren’t your first thought, it could be important later. Social media can remove pictures when they are reported, but that could leave you without proof of a crime.
  • Report the photos or videos to the website/application/platform.
  • Be aware that the main social media platforms have strict guidelines about revenge porn and how users can get intimate content removed.
  • Be aware of sites that are there specifically to show revenge porn, it can be harder to deal with these sites.
  • If you need to report revenge porn, here are just a couple of options:
    • The Revenge Porn Helpline offers practical assistance in reporting and removing content online (where possible). They provide coaching and advice on how and when to gather evidence and approach the authorities but cannot undertake criminal investigation or report to the police on the victim’s behalf. The helpline number is 0345 600 0459   or you can contact them via a secure email link  Their website is:
    • National Ugly Mugs can also offer support, advice and may suggest other organisations you can go to for support. Their contacts can be found in the resources section.

Privacy: Copyright Breach

If a website has published your images, phone number, email, text messages (often taken from screen shots) without your permission, you can contact the internet service provider hosting that platform and ask them to take down the content. Details for the host will be somewhere on the platform, they are obliged by law to provide the host’s details. It will depend on where and for what use your content and images are being used and which, if any, law is being broken.

It is best to get advice (especially if there is an abusive/harassing use of your content) from:

  • Your local police service.
  • The non-emergency police number (101).
  • Information Commissioner’s Office helpline 0303 123 1113.
  • National Ugly Mugs

General information around copyright law and what you can do to challenge a breach can be found easily online.

What’s a Crime: Blackmail

A person is guilty of blackmail if, with a view to gain for themselves or another with intent to cause loss to another, they make unwarranted demand with menaces and for this purpose a demand with menaces is unwarranted unless the person making it does so in the belief that

  1. They had reasonable grounds for making the demand.
  2. That the use of menaces is a proper means of reinforcing the demand.


Like extortion, blackmail is a crime under theft legislation, it is when someone obtains money or property from someone using coercion. Coercion includes the threat of violence or destruction of property or improper government action. If you think you are being blackmailed or are a victim of extortion, you can seek advice from the Police, and the Police can collate all the relevant information to ascertain what crime, if any, has been committed. You can always seek advice from or report to National Ugly Mugs.


What’s a Crime: Rape and Sexual Assault


Be aware rape applies to non-consensual penetration of a person’s vagina, anus or mouth with a penis. Non-consensual penetration with any other object is ‘sexual assault by penetration’ and can carry the same penalty as rape. The overarching definition of sexual/indecent assault is any act of physical, psychological and emotional violation, in the form of a sexual act inflicted on someone without their consent. Further information about what constitutes rape and sexual assault can be found at .

What You Can Do After A Sexual Assault


  • Remember that the attack is not your fault.
  • Know that your work does not entitle anyone to harm you in any way.
  • Find a safe place away from the attacker.
  • Contact a friend or work colleague to stay with you while you think through your options.
  • Get medical attention. Even if you have no physical injuries, it is important to get checked and for those to whom this applies, the risk of pregnancy addressed (emergency contraception which some people still call the ‘morning after pill’ is actually good for 4-5 days after, also an IUD can be fitted up to 7 days after) and to obtain any forensic evidence left by the attack.
  • Sexual Assault Referral Centre’s (SARCS) can help you with this.
  • If you choose not to go to a SARC. You can go to your local sexual health service or Accident and Emergency for free sexual health screening and PEP (we mentioned this in the sexual health section). Both are confidential services that will not pass information to the police unless you want them to.
  • Go to our resources section for sources of support for people in sex work who have experienced rape and sexual assault. Add link.
  • You can contact National Ugly Mugs, a national safety organisation for sex workers who can support and put you in touch with local projects who have experience of supporting sex workers who have experienced sexual assault. You can also report rape and sexual assault to them, and they can alert other sex workers, share anonymous information with the police and support you to report to the police if you want to.
  • If you want to report directly to the police call 999 in an emergency, 101 is the non-emergency number. See the resources section for more about reporting to the police. Most police forces now have specially-trained officers who deal with victims/survivors of rape and sexual assault.

Preserving Forensic Evidence


It can help to be ‘forensically aware’ so you can preserve evidence from the attack in case you report to the police or a Sexual Assault Referral Centre.

It will be very tempting to wash after an attack but your clothes, as they are, and your body will need to be examined by police (if you report to them) and medical staff (they are as sympathetic and understanding as they can be and will do everything possible to maintain your dignity, you will not be naked and exposed) when you report this. So, please try not to not bathe, shower, brush your teeth or change your clothes. However, if you already have or feel you must, all is not lost. It can still be possible to recover forensic evidence, and your local SARC can advise.

It’s helpful to know:

  • For vaginal rape, evidence can be recovered usually up to 7 days after
  • For anal rape it is 48 hours
  • Oral rape is 12 hours

If you feel you have to change your clothes:

  • Don’t wash the clothes you were wearing at the time of the attack.
  • Put them into a clean bag (paper bags are best if you have them) and tie it closed.

This will help to avoid contaminating the evidence. If the attack happened in the home, do not disturb the scene as there might be vital evidence there.

  • Reporting the sexual assault: you should seriously consider reporting the attack to the police. They are there to help you. Police forces now have specially-trained offers to deal with victims of rape and sexual assault. Some forces have sex work liaison officers who have lots of experience of supporting sex workers. Go to the resources section for more information on reporting to the police.


  • Good to know: even if you report to the police initially, you are free to withdraw at any point – all decisions should be yours and based on what is best for you.

Where to find support: It’s really important to know where to get help if things go wrong, that’s why we have provided a range of information useful to online sex workers in the resources section. This includes: where you can go if you experience crime (including rape and sexual assault) and want support or want to know your options for reporting. Please see the resources section.

The Four ‘W’s

If something happens – any crime or incident of concern – try to remember the four W’s in case you choose to report to the police, to third party schemes (like National Ugly Mugs or Ugly Mugs Ireland), or to a sex work project, or you share some details via a sex worker forum.

  • Who: physical details of the perpetrator, e.g. hair colour, height, voice, any markings or tattoos, did they smell of anything, what they said, words they used, anything distinctive that stood out.
  • When: time and date. This can help police inquiries for example CCTV, addresses that might be on police systems, ANPR, securing the scene and forensics.
  • Where: as above.
  • What: what happened? What did they do? Rape? Sexual Assault? Robbery? When you get more time or feel up to it, write down as much detail as you can.


Write these details down or put a note on your phone as soon as you are able and feel safe to do so. This will help the police in their enquiries if you choose to report and will be useful if you report to a third-party scheme at a local project, National Ugly Mugs or you share some details with other sex workers online.