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A survey carried out by Leeds University and commissioned by the Wellcome Trust revealed that 70% of Britain’s sex workers have previously worked in charity, education or healthcare – and over a third hold a university degree.

The survey also flagged up the pressures that cause people to begin working in the sex industry. For example, one NHS care assistant earned just £50 a day and couldn’t keep up with her rent

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The study involved 250 sex workers, of which 198 were women, and 12 were transgender. It focused only on sex workers who were not coerced or trafficked into their work, but who had taken a decision to work in the sex industry. Most also worked from residential premises.

71% of survey respondents had worked in social care, childcare, education or charity. Around a third had previously worked in retail.

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Tackling preconceptions
38% had an undergraduate degree and 17% had a postgraduate degree. Over 97% had their GSCEs as a minimum. The initial survey was part of a far bigger programme of research that will be funded by the European Social Research Council.

The research programme is primarily designed to look at the working conditions of those in the sex industry and the degree of job satisfaction that they experience – as well as the safety conditions. The researchers hope to get a clear picture of the working conditions that the sex industry can offer for indoor, voluntary sex workers.

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Changing face of sex work
In many parts of the UK, the internet has become the main way to sell sex, and has replaced saunas and brothels. Individuals can buy or sell sex services legally, but those who work as a group – say, in a brothel or for a pimp – are operating illegally.

Most of the survey respondees were paid less than £1,000 a month and combined their sex work with other forms of work. A small minority earned over £5,000 a month. Sexual health was a key area of concern. For STI testing London was a hotspot. Find out more at STI testing London.

91% found the work to be flexible and just over half found it rewarding, but 71% lied about their work and were fearful of being recognised. Furthermore, 47% had been crime victims as a result of their profession.

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