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Trafficking and prostitution

Trafficking into the UK supplies people to the sex industry and other cheap, exploitative labour markets and it occurs within, as well as across national borders. Trafficking and the sex industry are fundamentally linked; women are trafficked for sexual exploitation into existing sex industries. The knowledge base on trafficking in women into and within the UK is limited. Recent research  dramatically illustrates the growth, extent and normalisation of the sex industry and commercial sexual transactions.

  • 8.9% of men in London aged 16-44 reported having paid for sex in the past 5 years 80,000 women work in ‘on-street’ prostitution in the UK.

  • Between 50-75% of women in prostitution entered before they were 18, the average age women become involved being just 12yrs old

  • In the UK as many as 60 women involved in prostitution have been murdered in the last 10 years

  • As many as 85% women in prostitution report physical abuse in the family, with 45% reporting familial sexual abuse

  • 75% of children abused through prostitution had been missing from school. (Source: Home Office, Paying the Price. A consultation paper on prostitution, 2004).

  • Only 19% of women working as prostitutes in flats, parlours and saunas are originally from the UK.(Source: The Poppy Project, Sex in the City: Mapping Commercial Sex Across London, 2004).

  • 87% of women in street-based prostitution use heroin. (Source: M. Hester and N. Westmarland, Tackling Street Prostitution: Towards an Holistic Approach, Home Office Research Study 279, London, 2004).

Government Strategies and Action: Sex trafficking changing attitudes to prostitution

Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equality, visited the POPPY Project on 4 September 2008 and met with women who have been trafficked into sexual exploitation. POPPY provides accommodation and support to trafficked women. 

The visit coincides with new survey findings which show that more than half of men and women (58%) support making it illegal to pay for sex if it will help reduce women and children trafficked into the UK for sexual exploitation.  

The research also finds divergent attitudes between women and men. Whereas a clear majority of women find either paying for sex or selling it unacceptable (61% and 65% respectively, men are much more equivocal with just 42% and 40% respectively finding it unacceptable. For the full press release click here  

Defining Trafficking in Women and Children for Sexual Exploitation

There is both consensus and disagreement about how trafficking in human beings, and trafficking in women and children for the purposes of sexual exploitation, should be defined. However, most definitions contain the following key dimensions:

  • a recognition that trafficking does not necessarily involve force, but can include a range of control strategies and coercive contexts which vitiate consent;
  • the inclusion of traffic both within and across borders;
  • an attempt to incorporate all those who facilitate trafficking.

See the Council of Europe Campaign to combat trafficking in human beings for more information.

Further resources  

Press For Change
– Julie Bindel, 2006, - This is a press pack for journalists with an interest in stories which involve trafficking of women for the purposes of prostitution. The pack was originally developed as part of a joint project coordinated by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) and the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) entitled Promoting Preventative Measures to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings for Sexual Exploitation.

The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-International
(CATW) is a non-governmental organization that promotes women's human rights by working internationally to combat sexual exploitation in all its forms. Founded in 1988, CATW was the first international non-governmental organization to focus on human trafficking, especially sex trafficking of women and girls. CATW obtained Category II Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council in 1989.


Challenging Men’s Demand for Prostitution in Scotland, Women's Support Project, Glasgow, 2008.

Hope Betrayed – an analysis of women victims of trafficking and their claim for asylum, The Poppy Project and Refugee Women’s Resource Project at Asylum Aid, 2006.

Prostitution Fact Sheet, Feminist Coalition Against Prostitution . 



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