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In the well-kept terraced streets of north London, three sex workers take turns seeing clients in an anonymous-looking flat, sharing a calendar and pencilling in bookings around each other. The flat looks like any other — colourful mugs in the kitchen, a bowl of food by the door for the resident ginger tomcat. The work room has pastel bedsheets, a fluffy rug, mirrors, bedside lamps: it looks like any feminine but nondescript bedroom.
Perhaps the only noticeable feature of the flat is that, even during the day, the curtains are usually closed. This is a brothel and the women who live and work in the flat are breaking the law. While prostitution is legal in England and Wales, owning or managing a brothel is a crime. The phenomenon, where sex workers use Airbnb, hotels, or short-term holiday lets as a work base, has caused concern among politicians and the police.
But what is the reality for women working in brothels in Britain today, and what is driving them to work in temporary set-ups? Demystifying it is really important. Amy not her real name started working in hotels two years ago, renting out a room for a day, or longer with a friend if her children were away. But the pressure to make back the cost of the hotel meant she ended up booking clients she would not otherwise have seen. After a year, she found her current place with two others.
Still, she does not want to paint a rose-tinted picture of her new situation. Like many sex workers, trust and communication with the police is a huge issue for her and her workmates.
Maya not her real name , who is 23 and from Brazil, works in vastly different circumstances to Amy. She says she was threatened with arrest when she reported a violent robbery at a brothel where she was working in central London.