By Ava Caradonna and Yves Smith
Yves here. Further confirmation that the gig economy is not what it is cracked up to be. Sex workers in the UK have less privacy, lower returns, and much less safety in the days of online platforms than they did when brothels dominated the profession.
By Ava Caradonna, a migrant, a sex worker, a student, a mother, a citizen, a trans person, a person of colour, a teacher, a queer, a lesbian, and a militant. Ava allows us to speak from different positions as sex workers and as allies, without the stigma of using our ‘real’ names, and allows us to speak to the different realities in the sex industry and beyond. Originally published at openDemocracy
For decades, the British sex industry has straddled both informal and illegal work. This is because while the buying and selling of sex is technically legal in the UK, everything that produces the exchange of sex for money – advertising, employing support staff, renting premises, working collectively – is criminalised. As a result, our workplaces in ‘flats’ (small scale brothels), saunas, and hostess clubs have never been stable or safe places.
There has never been any job or income security in the sex industry. You only make money if it is busy, and the ‘house’ takes a percentage of your earnings – sometimes as high as 65-70%. However, up until recently, the way the system usually worked was that the flat manager would cover overheads. Buildings come with rent, utilities, and maintenance costs. Venues also need interior decorating, furniture, bedding, towels, equipment, and cleaning, and in our corner of the service industry also condoms and lube. Bosses would produce and place ads in newspapers and cards in red telephone boxes. They would provide security and often a receptionist, who would screen clients either on the phone or at the door. Similar arrangements existed for escort agencies, although in their case workers were often required to sort out somewhere to receive ‘in-calls’.
While we were never paid for the hours spent waiting for clients, and while we had to cover the cost of our own work clothes and grooming, sex workers were not expected to invest time, money, and skills into our work when we were not on the job. Our only investment in marketing was the construction of a work persona. This persona existed in clearly demarcated ways. It appeared when we came into direct contact with clients – either in the room, when actively earning money, or when introducing ourselves to potential clients – and disappeared just as quickly. This meant that sex work was clearly defined as a labour practice within time and space. A job with its uniforms and costumes, tools and office politics. A performed role, which you could stop performing when not actively working. In the past five to ten years, this has changed completely.