The Limits of Vulnerability: Arguments Against the Inclusion of Sex Workers Within Hate Crime Policy in England and Wales


  • Victoria Holt
  • Chloe Gott



On 23rd September 2020, the Law Commission launched their Hate Crime consultation paper, which suggested including ‘sex worker’ as a protected characteristic when considering hate motivated violence. The inclusion of sex workers in policing hate crime policy had already been implemented in Merseyside in 2002, and Yorkshire in 2017 (Sanders and Campbell, 2020). From a policing perspective, this approach has its advantages: it encourages a more coordinated approach to crimes against sex workers, as well as having an educative and awareness raising function around the discrimination they face (Sanders and Campbell, 2020; Chakoraborti and Garland, 2012). However, those who advocate for this approach caution that whilst it is an important first step to address crimes against sex workers, it can only go so far in a legal framework where sex work is still criminalised (Campbell, 2019; Campbell, 2014; Platt et al., 2018). This article challenges the idea that increased hate crime legislation will reduce violence against sex workers, suggesting that it may in fact put sex workers in even greater harm by increasing their interaction with the police. We emphasise that there is limited evidence that higher sentences deter hate crime offenders, and it is almost impossible to assess whether this type of legislation even provides the educative function it claims to. This paper argues that full decriminalisation of sex work is the most effective first step to responding to violence against sex workers, rather than increased legislation and tougher sentencing (CPS, 2019). In doing so, we add to the growing body of literature evidencing how full decriminalisation increases safety of sex workers. We also aim to contribute to a broader understanding that harsher sentencing and increased carceral responses do not best protect vulnerable communities of any sort.