The introduction and promotion of the “sex work” and “sex worker” terminology was part of a deliberate attempt by international lobbyists for the prostitution industry to change its image from seedy and exploitative to something apparently wholesome and healthy.

The success of that project is only too evident as this terminology now dominates not only the media, but also many UN bodies and agencies (e.g. WHO, UNAIDS, ILO, UNFPA, and more) and almost all the key institutions in England and Wales, including the police, universities, and the Home Office (see for example their Typologies of Modern Slavery, which uses the “sex work” terminology even when referring to child victims of sex trafficking).

This is a catastrophe because the term “sex work” implicitly positions prostitution as a normal job, which suggests that it is ethical and harmless. As a result, many marginalised girls and young women consider prostitution a viable option, typically with disastrous results, and men see buying sex as not fundamentally different from paying for a haircut. It is no surprise therefore that there has been a rapid increase in the size of the prostitution industry in recent years.

The “sex worker” term is even used for those who facilitate and profit from these activities – i.e. pimps, brothel keepers and other profiteers. This obfuscates both the reality and the power dynamics involved in the industry.

Promoters of the sex industry insist that everyone must listen to “sex workers” but many of the loudest voices claiming to be “sex workers” are not representative of the vast majority of prostituted women, may not have experienced in-person prostitution themselves, and may even be profiting from the prostitution of others.

Evidence suggests that pimps and traffickers in the UK can gain around £20,000 revenue per month for each woman they pimp. This is more than many people earn in a year. It is little wonder then that pimping and sex trafficking are rife in the UK, especially considering they are rarely prosecuted and the country’s severe economic inequality and entrenched poverty.

OnlyFans and webcamming act as a gateway to prostitution for women and as a gateway to prostitution buying for men.

We know that not all men are sex buyers. But all men know that prostitution is available to them any time they need their ego building up or someone to offload their frustration on. And at some level they know that prostitution shores up the inequality between men and women – from which they derive considerable benefit – just like the prevalence of rape and sexual harassment does.

When feminist author, Julie Bindel, was researching Switzerland’s legalised prostitution system, a woman working in a Geneva-based human rights organisation told Bindel how her work colleagues are prolific prostitution users.