Intended for healthcare professionals


Decriminalising sex work in the UK

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: (Published 16 August 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i4459
  1. Pippa Grenfell, research fellow in public health sociology1,
  2. Janet Eastham, sex worker activist2,
  3. Georgina Perry, service manager3,
  4. Lucy Platt, senior lecturer in public health epidemiology1
  1. 1Faculty of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine,
  2. London WC1H 9SH, UK
  3. 2Sex Worker Open University, UK (
  4. 3Open Doors, Homerton Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust, St Leonard’s site, London N1 5LZ, UK
  1. Correspondence to lucy.platt{at}

Cutting support services will jeopardise health benefits of proposed decriminalisation

Last month the UK House of Commons Home Affairs Committee called for street soliciting and the sharing of premises by sex workers to be decriminalised, and for associated convictions and cautions to be deleted.1 The recommendations have been hailed as a victory for sex workers’ rights and for evidence over ideology.2 However, the public health gains that could be achieved through this progressive approach will be undermined by ongoing cuts to specialist health and support services for sex workers, amid a government led ideological realignment of resources.

The select committee’s recommendations have the potential to redress extensive harms that sex workers have experienced as a criminalised population, particularly if they are coupled with measures to remove penalties against clients. Enabling sex workers to share premises would increase safety at work.3 Removing penalties for soliciting and kerb crawling would relieve economic pressure, provide more time to negotiate services and screen out potentially violent clients, and lessen the need to work in isolated areas4—all factors linked to an increased risk of violence and sexual ill health.5 …

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