105,000 individuals in the UK are believed to be involved in prostitution. The vast majority of these are women.


Women in prostitution can be from any age and any background.  However, across the South East women are predominately from Eastern Europe or East Asia. The average age of women advertising sex online is 24.  The average age of White British women tends to be older at 32– however, Streetlight UK recently supported a woman of 65+ years, who had been involved in prostitution for over 20 years.

What draws people into prostitution?

There appears to be no single route into  prostitution. Often, there is a web of complex, inter-woven social factors that binds people into prostitution.

This gives the individual involved the appearance of having no CHOICE but to continue despite the desire to exit.


When asked if they would like to leave prostitution, 9 out of 10 women said YES

Causes & barriers

There is a strong correlation with homelessness, sexual abuse, violence at home, runaways, drug use, time in care, poverty, debt, and poor education. As well as drawing individuals into the sex industry, these social factors can also be significant barriers to exiting.

Women often feel powerless, isolated, excluded, vulnerable, marginalised, and trapped.


There is much academic debate over the notion of free choice – whether individuals enter prostitution voluntarily or are coerced by unequal power. More importantly, however, is the effect of prostitution on those involved.

Most psychologists believe the long-term psychological harm resulting from prostitution is comparable to that from rape or domestic violence. Beyond the Streets highlights that 76% of those involved in prostitution experience some form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The core experiences of violence and psychological trauma associated with prostitution are disempowerment and disconnection with others. Internally, these experiences often cause a ‘split’ between the mind, body, and spirit.


Online access to prostitution has resulted in more pop-up brothels in short-term let properties – with an average rental time of 3 weeks to 3 months. This makes it extremely difficult to establish long-term support networks for women.

Women advertise online through agencies,or as independent escorts, sell webcam sex online, or are involved in on-street prostitution.


Individuals involved in prostitution often develop complex coping mechanisms and rituals to minimise their pain and brokenness:

  • Dissociative disorders (e.g. disconnection, distancing)
  • Anxiety disorders (e.g. fixation, memory loss, panic attacks, flashbacks)
  • Substance abuse (leading to long-term addiction and mental illness).
  • Sleeping disorders – oversleeping insomnia
  • Depression
  • Self harm
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive compulsive behaviour