Escorts and the Law
Escorts and the law contains a brief discussion of rape, sexual assault, and drugging. If you are likely to be triggered by these topics, either avoid this article entirely or skip reading the section in this article titled, “Crimes against sex workers”.
Escorts and the law contains legal information about sex work in the United Kingdom but is NOT legal advice and should not be treated as such. The information given here is relevant to the time of publication. If you are a sex worker from the UK operating in a different country, these laws may not apply. If you are reading this article sometime after publication, check that these laws have not changed. If you are seeking legal advice, contact a lawyer.
Many people are unaware that working as an escort in the UK, whether freelance or under an agency, can be completely legal. That being said, it is difficult, and there is a vast range of strict rules and regulations to be followed if you do not want to land yourself in trouble with the law. You want to have a respectable, legitimate career, and you can do precisely that.
So, you want to be an escort? Time to get into the nitty-gritty of the legal dos and don’ts – this is all about the escorts and the law. Get comfortable, take out your pen and paper, and get ready for a lesson in legal sex work.
Proving your right to work
To offer sexual services as an sex worker in the UK, you must be over the age of 18. If somebody (Person A) pays for sexual services with a person under the age of 18 but above the age of 16, (Person B), person A can face a maximum prison sentence of seven years and/or a fine. The sentences are increased if Person B is younger, and person A will be found guilty if penetration is proved in court.
If you do not have the right to work in the UK but do so anyway, for example, if you are a migrant without a Work Visa, you could face a number of repercussions. Working illegally can earn you a fine and potentially six months in prison, as well as your wages being seized, and you can even face deportation.
Having this on your record will work against you if you plan to extend your stay in the UK. If an agency has knowingly employed a person who does not have the right to work in the UK or has not taken the precautions to check that they do, they could also face a prison sentence.
Registering as a business
If you are earning money from your services, whether it is with an agency or as a freelancer, you must be sure to register as a business through HMRC. If you are an escort signing a contract with an agency, ask and make sure that they are registered and operating lawfully. Any revenue earned through the business must be declared for tax purposes, even if made in cash.
Marketing and advertising
Legally advertising as an escort is doable, but it is difficult. You have to know how to be discreet and precisely what you can and cannot do or say. First of all, it is completely illegal to advertise sexual services in telephone boxes. Advertising in public is possible, but there are stringent regulations surrounding it.
The main concern is to ensure the advertisement is not “obscene” or “indecent”, meaning it could ‘deprave or corrupt’ somebody who sees it. If your advertising can be deemed obscene or indecent, you could face up to five years in prison or receive a fine.
While you can carefully advertise publicly within the law, a more accessible and more common way to advertise escort services is over the internet. The laws surrounding obscene and indecent advertising still exist on the internet, but it is more challenging to be prosecuted for this. Keeping things discreet by using code-words and euphemisms is the most lawful way to advertise your escort services.
Offering your services in public through soliciting or loitering is also seen as a form of advertisement. It is illegal, as is “kerb-crawling”, the act of seeking out sex workers in public. “soliciting”.
However, many believe it only to be approaching potential customers in the streets, can also be defined by subtleties such as winking or suggestive glances, and still applies even if the sex worker is inside and visible through a window. In short, keep your work behind closed doors to avoid any legal trouble.
As an agency or a freelancer, it is a good idea to include a legal disclaimer on your website to state that you do not operate illegally and how. Not only will this legitimise your business, but it will also discourage any criminal clients that may be seeking out escort services.
A brothel is a place people go to pay for sexual acts with sex workers, and it is currently illegal to keep, manage, or assist in the management of a brothel, and doing so can result in a fine or up to seven years in prison. However, operating as a sex worker in a brothel is not considered a criminal offence. A property is defined as a brothel if more than one person is using it to provide sexual services, even if they are not working at the same time.
For example, if an escort agency is renting a property to run their business from and have clients come to pay for sex with their escorts, they are operating outside of the law. Yes, you may be free from charges if you are only working out of a brothel and not managing it, but operating within a legal establishment will ensure your career is as safe as possible.
If, on the other hand, the agency is using a property as an office space to screen clients, organise marketing and advertising, and do general administrative tasks, this is not considered a brothel and is a legal way for an escort agency to keep a property.
When working as an escort for an agency, you will have to pay an “agency fee”. Both the escort and the agency need to be careful with the transfer of these funds. If a court believes somebody other than the sex worker directly benefits from selling sexual services, they could face a fine or up to seven-years imprisonment.
Do not give an escort agency a cut of the cash you received from a client transaction. Even a driver, too, who you may provide an amount of this cash, will be at risk of prosecution.
The fee you may pay to your agency or any employees must be a completely separate transaction to the one between you and your client. You will pay your agency for their marketing, advertising, and administration services out of your pocket, not the money you have earned directly from client interactions.
Dealing with the police
No matter how well you follow the laws around sex work, there is a chance the police will confront you. It is essential to know your rights as a sex worker to keep yourself safe from further legal trouble. First off, you have the right to be treated fairly and with respect by law enforcement. If this is not your experience, speak to a lawyer.
Police may investigate escort agencies through undercover surveillance or secret telephone or camera surveillance. This is why it is vital to follow the law to a tee; you never know who may be watching and when. Before any police officer enters your premises, make sure they identify themselves and have a warrant card, show you their search or arrest warrant, and give you a copy of this warrant.
If they cannot provide these things, you do not have to let them in. If they do not have a warrant, but you give consent for them to enter the premises, you are within your right to ask them to leave at any point. Be careful – anything you say to a police officer can be used against you in court. There is no such thing as an “off the record” conversation.
Everybody is entitled to free legal advice and assistance. If you do not have a solicitor or do not have the details of one, a duty solicitor will be available to you at the police station and is free.
Crimes against sex workers
The sad truth is that sex workers are vulnerable to physical and sexual assault due to the nature of their job. However, your status as a sex worker should not affect your defence in any crime committed against you.
If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, you should go to a Sexual Assault Referral Centre as soon as you can so that you can receive medical care and DNA evidence can be collected.
You do not have to report the incident right away, and this DNA evidence can be stored for you if you choose to report the incident at a later date. As it currently stands, the offence of rape can only be committed by a man.
Administering a substance without consent, or “drugging” a person, is illegal. If you are drugged, for example, a substance being placed in your drink, you should report the incident to the police.
You do not have to tolerate these things, and your status as a sex worker does not make your experience any less valid or your attacker any less prosecutable. If you feel safe doing so, report these incidents when you see them and if they happen to you.
Being clued up on the legal side of sex work is a vitally important part of the job. Do your due diligence, learn the law like the back of your hand, and call out criminal behaviour when you see it. Stay in the loop in case anything changes, and be part of the conversation if you can. Use your rights; use your voice.
Yes, these restrictions are strict, and they can be challenging to work around, but the more escorts and agencies partake in legitimate, legal work, the further the sex work stigma can be broken.