Indoor & Online Sex Workers
SWOP Sussex is a sex workers’ outreach project for women who live or work in the sex industry in Sussex. Our service is trans inclusive.
The law & your rights.
It is not illegal for a consenting adult (age 18 or over) to sell sex in the UK, but law around the sex industry is complicated. It can make it difficult to work alongside other people for your safety.
If you experience a violence, abuse or any other crime, don’t let this put you off reporting to the police.
At SWOP we are happy to find out any information or support you if you have any concerns about your legal situation. You will not be obliged to give your personal details if you contact SWOP or Release.
What is illegal for indoor workers?
We recommend you look at the Release website for more information. They have a legal helpline (telephone and email). You can speak to a solicitor for advice about your rights around Sex Work and the Law and also Drugs and the Law.
Working in a brothel
A brothel is classed as any premise (flat, house, building) where more than one person sells sexual services. It is NOT illegal to sell sexual services or work as a maid in a brothel (answering the door or phone) but…
- It is an offence to “keep, manage, act or assist in the management of a brothel”. The sentence is a fine or 7 years in prison.
- Assisting in the management of a brothel can include keeping books, paying bills, holding keys, handling and logging money coming in from clients.
Allowing children in a brothel
- It is a criminal offence to allow a child age 4-15 (for which you have responsibility) in to a “brothel”.
- Although it is not an offence for children of other ages, we would you try to avoid working from home if you have children living there, or allowing anyone under the age of 18 into a premises classed as a brothel.
- Please see our FAQ section if you have concerns about your position in relation to your children and working.
Causing or Inciting Prostitution for Gain
If another person persuades you to take up sex work and they stand to gain from this, they may be committing an offence.
Controlling Prostitution for Gain (“pimping”)
- It is illegal for another person to control what customers you see, the prices you charge or any aspect of your work for their own gain.
- It is also illegal or if a third party is benefitting from this. The Sentence for Causing, Inciting or Controlling is a fine or up to 7 years in prison.
- You can use reasonable force to defend yourself against an attack.
- You do not have to have already been attacked before you defend yourself, but you must act in response to an immediate threat.
- Remember that carrying a weapon is an offence.
- If someone tells you they are a police officer, always ask to see ID. Never assume they really are police. Some customers will say they are police in order to get special favours.
- If a police officer sees you as a client, this is not against the law but they can be reported for “professional misconduct” as they are in a position of power.
- Remember, if you get arrested:
- You have the right to be treated fairly and with respect by the police.
- You do not have to say anything to the police BUT if you are later charged with a crime and you have not mentioned, when questioned, something that you later rely on in court, then this may be taken into account when deciding if you are guilty.
- DO NOT discuss your case with the police until you have consulted with a solicitor.
- Inform the custody officer if you feel unwell or are on prescribed medication.
Police raids on brothels
Police forces across the country may take different approaches as to how they use brothel legislation. In general they may raid premises if they believe people living or working there may be trafficked or exploited.
You are more likely to get problems if you or your clients are seen to cause any cause neighbours to make complaints to the police or council (e.g. noise, taxis or drivers running engines outside during the night, people knocking on the wrong door etc.), drugs or stolen goods coming on the premises.
If you work in a brothel and keep your personal money or belongings in a communal safe, we recommend that you:
- have it clearly labelled with your name
- keep a separate log (in your phone or notebook) of how much is in there and keep it up to date.
If money is taken from the safe as evidence and you are not charged or found guilty with an offence, this may make it easier for you to prove that this is your personal money and rather than assets of the brothel.
Other useful contacts.
Immigration rights – if you are a worker from outside the UK, please see our Migrant Workers page.
SWARM is a community of sex workers advocating for better working conditions and resisting violence.
ECP are an organisation of sex-workers campaigning for sex workers’ rights and safety. They have resources on rights for sex workers on their website.