Visual Violence: Sex Workers’ Experiences of Image-Based Abuses

2022

In 2021, CREAM doctoral candidate Camille Waring, was awarded £11,400 in research funding from National Ugly Mugs (NUM). NUM is a charity working with sex workers to research, provide safety tools and end the culture of violence against sex workers. The research project, Visual Violence: Sex Workers’ Experiences of Image-Based Abuses was birthed from an unpublished PhD chapter on the way sex workers experience visual terrorism and the weaponisation of photography in online spaces. Little attention has been paid to the way internet web technologies have enabled photographic violence and the implications for image-based surveillance against sex workers. This research goes towards addressing this and seeks to showcase image-based harms, specific to sex workers and their experiences, and we call this visual violence.

Camille Waring developed and led this research project, which involved creating new definitions, visual language, collecting and analysing data, and producing a research report.

“Visual violence is broad, and encompasses a wide range of experiences, from image theft to filming without consent, to blackmail. In all of its forms, visual media is used to incite fear, harm, abuse and destruction. The perpetrators can be sex buyers, intimate partners, friends, family, other sex workers, and strangers on the Internet. Ultimately, this research demonstrates that fears of, and experiences of, visual violence are core concerns for sex workers and that it is vital that their concerns are recognised and included” – Camille Waring.

This research is cutting edge and could not be timelier. The increasing digitisation of sex work, particularly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, presents both new opportunities and new hazards for sex workers. At the same time, there is a need to understand visual violence as it is uniquely experienced by sex workers, within and outside traditional lenses of “revenge porn” and copyright, where debates around sex work online are intensifying.

Camille Waring’s report is available on nationaluglymugs.org.