UK unemployment offices carry adverts for jobs in the sex industry: Wrong or Right?

Every once in a while there are complaints in the UK about government-funded employment centres that permit advertisements for sex-related jobs. The agency in charge, Jobcentre Plus, provides resources to help unemployed people find work by consulting Jobcentre’s computer system or telephoning their offices or by looking at a website from home. Jobcentres also provide information about training opportunities.

A government report found that of ‘over 2.26 million vacancies advertised last year, 351 or around 0.015% of vacancies carried by Jobcentre Plus were in the adult entertainment industry.’ Some people are horrified that even this tiny proportion of possible jobs would be advertised. Adverts for such jobs used to be disqualified, but that policy was found to be discriminatory towards some employers. Ann Summers, for example, is a chain of mainstream shops selling sexy clothing and toys. Their adverts were not supposed to be included in Jobcentres before a High Court ruling lifted the ban in 2003.

Since no one is forced to apply for any job, it seems harmless to allow the advertisements to exist, although, of course, some people feel offended by the sight of them. The bigger problem is that some who’ve gotten the jobs later report that they were pressured to provide sexual services to customers – a reality not mentioned in the original advert. What jobs are we talking about?

Adult entertainment vacancies advertised by Jobcentre Plus between August 1, 2007, and July 31, 2008: Figures from government report and consultation

  • Party planner (adult products) 68 vacancies
  • Retail (adult products) 58
  • Lap dancing club bar staff, managers 54
  • Dancers, eg lap, pole, table, erotic 44
  • Adult chat line operators and supervisors 30
  • Models including lingerie and nude 28
  • Warehouse 20
  • Escorts 12
  • Masseuses 8
  • Topless TV channel staff 8
  • Webcam operators 7
  • Topless/semi-nude bar staff 3
  • Others including semi-nude butler, nude cleaner, kissogram 11

The report says that 5514 people applied for 351 adult-entertainment-industry vacancies advertised, an average of just under 16 applicants for each vacancy. The report breaks these figures down by sex: 59.1% of applicants were male and 40.9% were female. 64% identified as white, 18% as disabled. Applicants ranged from 18 to 61+ years old, with the largest group, 45%, being aged 21-30.

Some of the jobs listed above could, obviously, turn into prostitution, but many of them simply involve dealing with sexual language, products and clothing. Since many people feel comfortable with those, it seems drastic to exclude them from advertised jobs. And I know it’s awful to be pressured to provide sex at your workplace, but such pressure occurs in all sorts of jobs that have nothing to do with the sex industry. If regulations prohibiting sexual harassment cover work as a secretary, cashier or nanny, they must cover legal jobs advertised in Jobcentres.

That is to say, the reaction to these cases of pressure is overblown. Given the deteriorating economy, removing announcements of vacancies from places where people go to look for work seems counter-productive. People who don’t want the jobs presumably just skip over them. Existing legislation should cover abuses in the workplace. I have one doubt, though: Are all the advertisements indeed ‘legal’? That is, escort agencies are technically not legal in the UK, so how are they able to advertise in Jobcentres? Who knows the answer to this? There might be a distinction here between legal jobs and legal employers.

I commented in December on a report that UK directory-enquiries showed an increase in interest in telephone numbers for some sex businesses. I think we need to confront the fact that many, many people do not share the current wave of horror about the sex industry. It may not be a Good Thing that sexual jobs are on the increase, but it is not a Bad Thing, either.

27 thoughts on “UK unemployment offices carry adverts for jobs in the sex industry: Wrong or Right?

  1. Chris

    Hi Laura- following your comment on my blog I thought I’d comment here. It’s an interesting post and highlights just how diverse the so called ‘sex industry’ actually is. Where do we draw the line? Escorting is itself complicated. I did a survey of Gaydar male escorts last year which is going to be published in the Journal of Criminal Law later this year and whilst Is et out to survey ‘escorts’ I found that was a bit more complciated – what about those who masterbate on cam? Those that simply strip but don’t do anything ‘sexual’, those that offer semen stained or just ‘used’ underwear. This area is vast. Prostitution is not illegal under English law per se so escorting is something of a grey area legally. Many of these other roles are also less than straightforward. Lets take the Ann Summers example. OK, so you’re selling a vibrator? How is that different from selling a car or working in a supermarket?

    The only time when I can see law intervening in such adverts is the deeply theoretical situation in which the adverts were explicit. In such situations you could argue they are obscene. Beyond that I don’t see any role for law here. If anything, in the current recession people may become a little more open minded about such activities.

  2. Laura Agustin

    Thanks so much, Chris, for engaging with this. Because of the diversity within the sex industry and beyond, I proposed a separate field called the Cultural Study of Commercial Sex, which you can read about at in the original Sexualities article at https://www.lauraagustin.com/sex-industry-cultures-not-just-sex-work-or-violence-or-prostitution-or-women-or-trafficking-or-rights

    and in the special edition called the same https://www.lauraagustin.com/sex-tourism-stripping-rentboys-brothels-courtesans-pornography-escorts-and-solidarity-what-more-could-you-ask

    But my question for you here is more specific. I say in the post that the jobs advertised are in legal sectors. In the UK escort agencies are not legal. How is it then that they can advertise in Jobcentres? This particular area is not grey, as I understand the law. Tolerated, but not grey.

    What do you think?

  3. Suzanne Hammond

    Thanks Laura, sorry I should have realised you knew about the background before I responded elsewhere.

    I think the consultation has to be seen in the light of general UK Government moves against the sex industry. Deputy PM Harriet Harman has been actively campaigning to get newspapers to drop ads for escort services in their columns, and the Newspaper Society has come out with a code of practice against these adverts after Government pressure. At the same time, the Government is carrying ads for vacancies in the JobCentres through the Ann Summers ruling.

    This is all supposedly to combat trafficking. Its actual effect is, of course, if anything the reverse: it reduces the inflow of voluntary escorts and therefore improves the market for those supplying involuntary escorts.

    S

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  5. SnowdropExplodes

    Hi,

    As someone who is currently unemployed in the UK, i think I can answer some of the points here.

    Firstly, escort agencies are legal inasmuch as they provide a companion for a public event – literally just an escort service, as opposed to a euphemism for callgirl services. In the UK, if any prostitution happens, then that is not provided by the agency, but would be negotiated between the individual escort and her (or his) client. If that happens, then it would be illegal, but I think people turn a blind eye.

    Secondly, if a person is unemployed in the UK, in order to continue receiving benefits (i.e. “Job Seekers Allowance”, and any other benefits dependent upon that, e.g. housing benefit), a person must apply for any job that he or she is able to do. However, adult entertainment positions are exempt from this, and on any such advert in the Jobcentre, it is clearly displayed that you do not have to apply for them. Personally, being quite open about sex and sexuality, I have tended to apply for those for which I’m qualified (by physique, skills and temperament) to do (these have included an attendant at a gay massage parlour and shop assistant at a kinky sex shop).

    Finally, yes the regulations against sexual harassment do cover sex work establishments, but in general I think that there is protection from public attitudes towards sex work: i.e. “what did you expect if you go to work at such places?” – meaning that getting any kind of court decision in your favour would be hard.

  6. laura agustin Post author

    Thanks, Snowdrop. I’ve done lots of research about licenced sex establishments in the UK, but the greyness on this point about ‘legality’ of escort agencies is now clarified, I think. Someone said the other day that to advertise in a Jobcentre, an employer has to be ‘registered’, have a landline, have a bank account and supply an address. Of course such an employer could be a sweatshop or gangmaster or anything else.

    About harassment, yes of course, winning such cases are hard enough without the accusation being that one ‘asked for it’ by working in the sex industry. The question that always comes up, though, is whether new, special, irritating, unsubtle, unfair laws need to be drawn up to cover sex jobs as though they were inherently different always, to everyone.

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