What is a brothel?
A brothel is any building, for example a private flat, a house or massage parlour, which is used by more than one worker where people go to pay for sex. If just one person is selling sex in a particular premises, it is not considered a brothel.
Are brothels legal in the UK?
Prostitution itself is considered legal in both England and Wales.
However, soliciting sex in public, pimping, kerb crawling and owning or managing a brothel are all considered crimes.
Recently a few MPs want to see brothels decriminalized, because they think the current law could discourage prostitutes from working together in groups – which is safer for them to do.
What are pop-up brothels?
There is a growing trend in the UK that emerged in the last couple of years. Pimps are renting holiday homes and turn them into temporary brothels, mostly for just one week.
Then they move onto a different address, to avoid police detection.
In South West England, an estimated 30 temporary sex dens are opening every week. While 14 pop-up brothels were discovered in Newquay, Cornwall, in just six months. There was a case in Bournemouth where 70-year-old Christy Norman was arrested for assisting to run a secret brothel after a customer died on the premises, which alerted the police.
The majority of working girls in those pop-up brothels have been trafficked from Eastern Europe, and some of them are kept as sex slaves.
There is also the case of UK based sex workers that sometimes need to travel the country to find more work and expand their clientele list. They often prefer to join up with other sex workers. They rather not be alone in case something goes wrong.
By that it’s often meant by anything from but not limited to sexual assault, physical abuse, robbery and in the worst case attempted murder.
So women who travel the country for sex work often join these pop-up brothels for safety reasons. These pop-up brothels are therefore becoming more popular and on demand.
What makes these pop-up brothels so popular other than the safety aspect is that; sex workers don’t pay a cut to a “manager” from their earnings and clients don’t have to enter “known” brothels.
How does one find these pop-up brothels?
When a sex worker decided to travel, she generally asks other sex worker friends for recommendation or if they have heard of a new place. Alternatively there are private forums on the internet. If she can’t find one she will ask others who are interested to join her. Once they agree to come with her they would then hire an apartment together. The place they end up hiring is going to be a secure place with security gates, a video intercom and a locked premise. After they have secured a place they would then start looking for clients on social media.
There are private Facebook group run by local sex workers that they can join, where colleagues warn one another of dangerous clients and locations to avoid – or places they recommend.
Once they’ve secured the new clients, they set up a schedule. Then they will deduct from the payments they received their accommodation, travel, and living costs. But, by working together they will halve those costs, so it’s financially more viable, safer, and more enjoyable than travelling alone.
Like conventional brothels, these ‘pop-ups’ are illegal. In the UK, it is legal for someone to sell sex alone, but the law considers more than one sex worker selling sex on the same premises to be a brothel, which carries a maximum prison sentence of seven years.
Nevertheless, some sex workers are adamant that they would not work alone. They break the law, because it’s either that or risk their lives. A 2016 report on prostitution from the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee emphasized how vulnerable sex workers are, quoting one charity that labelled prostitution “one of the most dangerous occupations in the world”.
In 2016, a Home Affairs Select Committee backed a call to change the rules on brothel-keeping and completely decriminalize sex work, but the law has remained unchanged.
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