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Umbrella Lane’s Sex Workers’ Rights Day Blog

Every year on the 3rd of March, the Sex Worker community celebrates Sex Workers’ Rights Day. Although we can not celebrate together in person this year, we wanted to mark the occasion.


Umbrella Lane has decided to spend the day sharing posts about what rights Sex Workers’ have, both in the UK and worldwide. This follows community comments in our recent needs assessment (https://e7cb27be-607e-4c1c-960b-0e3aae2f2302.filesusr.com/ugd/063c2f_15203e03038a43ffa1b2148924041e40.pdf ) that noted many people aren’t aware of the rights Sex Workers have.


We are also launching this short video to help raise public awareness of the day. Check it out, and be sure to subscribe to our channel for more educational and fun videos.


(https://youtu.be/ffqFeOlJIYc)


Alongside the video, we’ll be posting True or False trivia questions throughout the day across all of our social media platforms. We encourage both Sex Workers and the general public to participate in the trivia posts to increase their awareness of rights and the laws.


We’ve put all of the trivia questions on this online quiz if you’d like to test your knowledge ( https://hello580554.typeform.com/to/StJkcoh9 ).


Be sure to take the quiz before reading any further if you want it to be an accurate reflection of your current knowledge!


If you’re ready and raring to learn more about Sex Workers’ Rights Day, then keep on scrolling.





Sex Workers’ Rights Day was founded in 2001 by Sex Workers in India.


The Sex Worker group (Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee) met with resistance from prohibitionist groups that attempted to have the event shut down by pressuring the Government to remove their event permit. However, the Sex Worker group was successful and the event went ahead.


This victory inspired the rest of the world to take up the 3rd of March as Sex Workers’ Rights Day in solidarity.




In 2020, Umbrella Lane created a Needs Assessment with academics in the field of sex work. From this research, it became clear that many Sex Workers are not aware of the rights they have, or full awareness of the laws that affect them. With this in mind, we have pulled together a collection of the rights we believe every Sex Worker and members of the public should know.



Sex work is legal in Scotland


There are many caveats and rules surrounding sex work, but sex work is legal in Scotland.


Things that are illegal or that make it illegal to be working are:


  • Working on the street. Soliciting for sex on the street (kerb-crawling) is illegal.

  • Loitering for the purposes of selling sex.

  • Advertising sexual services are against the law. (it’s specifically mentioned that putting cards in phone boxes is illegal)

  • Sharing a space with another Worker or working with another Worker. Working from the same space as another Worker (even if it’s at separate times) is illegal and you can be charged with brothel-keeping.

  • Third-party laws: If an individual manages or assists with running a “brothel” - including if they rent the space to the Sex Worker or work as an administrative helper, or cleaner - they can be charged with “brothel-keeping” or other similar offences. Any male individuals that are found to be knowingly living off of or partially living off of the earnings of “prostitution” can be found guilty of an offence and could face a fine or up to 6 years in jail.



Sex Workers Pay Taxes


Sex Workers can register as self-employed and pay taxes. We encourage all Sex Workers to do this sooner rather than later if able. Although paying taxes won’t stop you from potentially facing criminal charges or challenges from the Police, it will prevent you from being charged for tax evasion.


It will also give you access to specific social security options that the self-employed are entitled to, such as tax breaks and business grants.



Sex Workers Have The Right To Work Without Harassment


All Sex Workers have the right to work safely and without harassment - just like all other individuals.


Anyone working in the UK has the right to be protected against harassment and harm as per UK law.



International Context


Sex Worker rights vary greatly between different countries, and often even within countries.


Due to the number of differences in specific legislation, it can be difficult to create relevant classifications when considering Work; however, there are some generally accepted categories that broadly cover the different approaches governments take to sex work.


  1. Legislation for regulation - which includes abolitionism as well as legalisation. Although legalisation may sound positive, it often has restrictive rules around sex work and creates a de facto illegal Sex Work that is outwith the law.

  2. Prohibitionism includes cases where sex work is illegal or where clients are criminalised. Numerous studies have shown that criminalising clients creates a more dangerous environment for Sex Workers, whilst doing little to reduce demand (which is what these models claim to do).

  3. Decriminalisation is the approach that Sex Worker advocacy has championed for decades. This is because decriminalisation accepts that whilst there is poverty Sex Work will happen and gives the Workers the ability and protections to work safely and freely. It also is the only approach to take a harm reduction, human rights and public health approach and as opposed to a criminal-justice based approach.


Legislation for regulation is when specific legislation applies to sex work; although this legalises sex work that falls within the law, anything outwith the law is illegal. Legalised systems have been known to restrict where and how Workers can work, as well as, in some cases enforcing mandatory testing. Although the legislation varies per country some examples of this system can be found in the Netherlands, Germany and Austria.


The Nordic model, which is an example of prohibitionism criminalises the client. This model was first adopted in 1999 by Sweden. Sweden has since encouraged other countries to follow suit. Currently, countries including Norway, Northern Ireland, France and others have adopted this policy. In all cases, subsequent studies have shown that Workers are less safe, and have fewer rights.


Many countries have prohibited sex work entirely, forbidding both the selling and purchase of sex. It is important to note that Sex Work continues in these places, but Sex Workers are then even more marginalised and vulnerable. Few countries adopt this approach, with some exceptions including Romania, parts of the Middle East along with some US States.


Decriminalisation is nationally implemented only in New Zealand, and at the state level in New South Wales and Northern Territory, Australia. Workers have since reported better client screening and improved ability to access their rights including the right to justice.


It is important to note that migrant Workers are often the most vulnerable regardless of context. For example, in Scotland should an illegal migrant Worker report a crime they could potentially still risk facing deportation. Even in decriminalised settings migrant Workers are unable to enjoy parity with legal Workers and nationals.


Finally, it is important to note that across the world Sex Worker organisations are trying to claim their rights. Sex Workers have long been at the forefront of rights movements including women’s rights and LGBT+ rights. Now some organisations like the International Committee On The Rights Of Sex Workers In Europe (ICRSE) and The Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) and others facilitate networks of Sex Worker organisations with the goal of international cooperation to promote the voice and rights of Sex Workers.




Further Reading



Know Your Rights by English Collective of Prostitutes: https://prostitutescollective.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Know-Your-Rights.pdf


Indoor Sex Workers’ Rights In Scotland by Scot-Pep: http://scot-pep.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/indoor_sw_rights_english.pdf


Workers’ Rights by the International Union of Sex Workers: https://www.iusw.org/


Global Network of Sex Work Projects website: https://www.nswp.org/


International Committee On The Rights Of Sex Workers In Europe website: https://www.sexworkeurope.org/


Information from a legal services site about “living off of immoral earnings”: https://www.inbrief.co.uk/offences/living-off-immoral-earnings/


Scotland’s Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 (this is the actual law document, it’s quite heavy reading): https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1995/39/part/I/crossheading/procuring-prostitution-etc

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To support the greater wellbeing of Sex Workers through growing a community which provides connection and positive conversation. We see a world where Sex Workers live fulfilled and embodied lives, which are free from stigma and discrimination.

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