This picture illustrates some aspects of a holistic approach to appreciate the situation of some migrants who enter the sex industry. It starts with people in search of better life opportunities than that available in their country. Immigration to more developed countries with a more appealing life style (advertised through globalisation and new communication technologies) represents an attractive option.
However legal entry into Britain is not easy and straightforward. When possible, obtaining a work permit, even for low-qualified positions, is challenging. Many migrants are aware of these difficulties and this is where “traffickers” (often family members of relatives, though organised trafficking can’t be ignored or denied) comes in as facilitators. They may act coercively or on the promise of a job in exchange of a sum of money. Once in-country, opportunities are limited because of employment and immigration laws. Sex work often remains the only prospect to make a living.
Perception of the situation of women in the sex industry differs according to different worldviews. For some support organisations, women are victims. For other, choosing to be a sex worker is an expression of free will and in many cases empowering, allowing women to support themselves and their family and sometimes escape difficult situation at home. It certainly isn’t neither/or but many academic research concludes that “women as victims” is a far too simplistic conception.
The legislator under the pressure of some support organisations and the public opinion, often manipulated by the media, has adopted an approach that penalises women’s clients whilst also criminalising the worker.
The police has admitted the limitations of the current legal framework but still carries on with interventions (from which they financially benefit) such as “Pentameter”, which led to few arrests of real traffickers and have limited, if any impact on migration and trafficking. Meanwhile, women are put in a situation where they have to admit being trafficked or sex-worker with the respective consequence of being sent back home or to jail.
The current legal approach to human trafficking and sexual exploitation of women ignores human agency and the complexity of women’s situation and is therefore inefficient. A proper framework for intervention would need systematic and systemic understanding of those that the law allegedly wants to protect.