It may be a side of North Hampshire you’ve never encountered. 

But like many areas of the economy, the sex industry has suffered due to the coronavirus pandemic.

There are an estimated 70,000 sex workers in the UK and a quick search reveals hundreds of people working in the industry across Basingstoke and North Hampshire. 

You may think a global health pandemic would halt sex work but that isn't necessarily the case.

Organisation Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement (SWARM) said many of their representatives often have little in the way of savings and as well as being exposed to other people intimately, are also exposed to violence.

A spokesman for SWARM said: “We would like to make it clear that sex workers’ particular vulnerability stems not only from the inevitable bodily contact involved in face-to-face sex work but from the fact that our work is partially criminalised and hugely stigmatised. 

“Our fears during the pandemic are the same as those found in all sectors of the gig economy. Many of us live job-to-job with no savings.” 

That has certainly been the case of Aaron*, who lives near Basingstoke. He said work has been “very slow” in recent months.

“it’s almost come to a standstill,” he told The Gazette said. “I’m over the whole lockdown thing now as I said, work has not been great. I’ve had to sign up to benefits to keep myself afloat. Some are dealing with it very well, others not so very. 

“My working days haven’t really changed, apart from the fact it’s much quieter. Due to a lot of time wasters, I’m finding it hard to meet new clients. My take home is very small.” 

Jenny, who operates a busy Hampshire escorting agency Night and Day, has been able to put her office staff on furlough as her business is registered. 

But her escorts, who are self-employed, have not been able to work since March 10. 

She had hoped that lockdown restrictions would ease further this weekend, allowing the escorts to resume going on dinner dates. 

Basingstoke Gazette: Hampshire escorting agency Night and Day has been closed throughout lockdownHampshire escorting agency Night and Day has been closed throughout lockdown

However, the prime minister Boris Johnson's announcement today that the brakes were being applied to lockdown easing have stopped this from happening. 

"It is a shame and we are disappointed but what can you do?" Jenny told The Gazette. 

"As a business owner and a human being, how I feel about the pandemic is two-fold. On the one hand, I have a moral conscious. I am not going to trade when I know it's not the right thing to do. 

"It is scary though. I am a director of a company but at the moment I am cleaning students properties to make money. What else can I do? There is no financial support for directors. I have no choice." 

Since March 10, Jenny said they "hadn't earnt a penny". 

Despite business being anything but usual, Jenny said the phone calls have been non-stop. "I try to answer the phone wherever I can. I speak to clients every day. They want to know when we'll be back open. I thought there might be a way forward for August and we had hoped to at least be able to do dinner dates but obviously that's going to be possible." 

Jenny said her escorts all have "day jobs" which has kept them afloat during these times. "All the ladies who work for me have jobs outside of their escorting life, teachers, solicitors etc. I have three who work in the office who are all on furlough," she said. 

For those not luckily enough to work for a registered business or to have a second income source, life can be more chaotic. 

A spokeswoman from SWARM told The Gazette working through the pandemic had brought a fresh set of problems for those who work on the street. 

She said: “We have heard reports from around the country of street-based sex workers being shouted at, spat at and reported to the police. 

“There has been an increase in local news stories of brothel raids prompted by neighbours reporting workers under ‘Covid concerns’. 

“Undocumented workers face no protection from the state while trans sex workers and workers of colour face heightened discrimination and violence.”  

An estimated 152 sex workers were murdered in Britiain between 1990 and 2015. In a government survey, 49 per cent of sex workers said they were worried about the safety.

And lockdown has left sex workers at greater risk of assault, a Southampton charity said.

The Amber Chaplains, who work in Southampton, said women are finding it harder to earn money during lockdown so have been taking more risks.

The organisation said women have been too scared to report violent assaults because they fear being arrested, the BBC reported. 

Jenny said her agency luckily didn't face these types of problems. "We carry out checks and vet clients beforehand. We are not like other agencies. take time getting to know people before they see our women," she said. 

Jenny said lockdown has shown how lonely many people are. She said: “There is a massive problem with loneliness nowadays. Family isn’t the way it used to be years ago. People don’t have the same social networks they used to have. They don’t have the same family networks.  

Looking to the future, Jenny said she was concerned about when the business would be able to operate again. “I’m not a scientist but I do feel that Covid will be with us for years. I am listening constantly as a business owner to what is happening. 

“I think Rishi has been the best chancellor in my life time. He has given us all so much support. But how can they extend the furlough scheme? They can’t and I don’t think that would be right to. You can’t magic money out of nowhere. Printing loads of money isn’t going to work. I don’t know what the answer is in truth. 

“I just wish there was a magic wand I could wave to wake up and this to all been a bad dream.” 

Jenny's agency Night and Day has been operating for 18 years. She said she was inspired to start a business after hearing stories of other women who were mistreated and not managed properly. 

She said: “I met some ladies that weren’t treated correctly by agencies. I thought I would set up my own.” 

Her business is a registered limited company and pays tax, as any other profession would. 

When asked out her firm’s annual turnover, she declined to comment but said work could be “lucrative”. 

“All the ladies who work for me are exclusive to our agency and they will only see one client a night. It’s all about balance. They all have lives and jobs outside of escorting. It’s important their own life. When they sign up to work for me, they all adhere to the same rules.”  

Speaking about the services her agency provides, Jenny said: "This may sound odd but we provide a really good service of community. There are people out there who don’t see anyone, there are people out there who are lonely and our ladies are their main source of comfort.  

“It might be having someone’s hand to hold or some of the ladies with really big shoulders to carry some of the emotional burden. Some of these guys are widowed or they’ve been divorced. We’ve seen men who have been the victims of domestic violence. They often have been through so much and are looking to rebuild their confidence.  

She continued: “It’s not necessary people with mental health issues, either as I have a duty of care. Our services are about enhancing people’s lives. Not being able to do this at the moment is very hard. I am at the end of the telephone but I know it’s not the same.

“A the end of the day, these guys have had this ripped from them due to Covid. It’s no ones fault in the UK but it has been difficult. As an agency owner, I have to adhere to guidelines and I want to make sure that we protect our nation as well as our customers.” 

What is the law on prostitution in the UK?

In England, Wales and Soctland, exchanging sexual services for money is legal but a number of related activities such as soliciting in a public place, owning or managing a brothel are crimes.

Laws aren’t always enforced with police forces turning a blind eye to brothels.

Although the average age of consent is 16, it is illegal to buy sex from someone under the age of 18.

And in England, it is an offence to pay for sex with a sex worker who has been “subjected to force”.

What protection is in place to protect sex workers? 

Sex workers have the same rights and protections as anyone in Britain though their safety and security will depend on where they work and for whom. 

Earlier this year, an all-party parliamentary group on prostitution and the global sex trade urged the home secretary Priti Patel to safeguard sex workers in the UK, saying that a sudden lack of access to support services and income left them uniquely vulnerable. “We are […] hugely concerned that when the exploiters are unable to use the women to make money because of coronavirus, the women’s lives literally become worthless to them,” they wrote.