The impact of laws and policing on sex workers’ lives

ELP_colour2 Project

The East London Project: how removing enforcement could affect sex workers’ safety, health and access to services, in East London

What is the goal of the research?

The aim of the research is to understand how removing sex work-related police enforcement could affect sex workers’ safety, sexual and emotional health and access to health and social care services, in London boroughs of Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets.

There hasn’t been a study like this in the UK before. It’s also the first one internationally that will look at the combined impacts of policing on violence, sexual and emotional health, taking into account how criminalisation affects other issues, like housing and financial situation, which can also affect health.

What will we use the research for?

We will use the project results to advocate for evidence-based policy and practice to improve the safety, health and well-being of sex workers in the UK, and internationally. We will present the results of the project at events for sex workers, key stakeholders, local residents and the wider public (see News).

Who would be like to talk to?

We want to hear from people who work in any sector of the sex industry (e.g. flats, saunas, agencies, outdoors, independently) providing direct sexual services (by that we mean has had physical contact) and are aged 18 years or older. We would like to talk to people who have and have not had contact with police in relation to their work.

The project is designed for people of all genders and nationalities who

  • Currently sell sex (direct services) in Hackney, Newham or Tower Hamlets OR have sold sex in these areas in the last year
  • Are aged 18 years or older
Who are the research team?

We are a group of researchers that includes academics, current and former sex workers, members of sex worker organisations and sex work projects, working together to make decisions on how we design, carry out and use the research (see Team). Our key partners are Open Doors and National Ugly Mugs . We are also consulting widely with other community stakeholders to ensure the research and findings are directly relevant to sex workers, activists, service providers and policy makers.


Our project covers three east London boroughs: Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets


The research team are carrying out neighbourhood walks and interviews , a two-part survey (cohort study) with sex workers working in Hackney, Newham or Tower Hamlets. As part of the cohort study we will also offer voluntary testing for HIV, Gonorrhoea and Chlamydia, and provide access to treatment when needed.

We will use these results together with information on the total number of arrests of sex workers and clients in the boroughs (routine data), to develop a computer model – a “real-world” computer simulation – to predict how removing enforcement could affect sex workers’ health, safety and access to care over time.

What are the benefits of participating?

You might see the chance to be part of a project looking at the way policing affects sex workers’ health and safety as a positive and important thing, but some issues may be difficult to talk about. We will tell you about organisations that provide support on safety, health and rights, and we can help you contact these organisations if you want. We will give you £20 to thank you for taking part. For those participating in the survey will be offered HIV, chlamydia and gonorrhoea testing and access to treatment when needed.

Who funds the project?

The project is funded by the National Institute of Health Research (Public Health Research Programme) and runs between February 1st 2017 and July 31st 2019.

How can I find out more?

You can find out more information about the research and the different methods on the Research tab.

To download the scientific summary of the project, please click here .

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