How UKPunting, the review website for sex workers, also facilitates their harassment

By Sofia Gallarate

Updated Nov 23, 2021 at 04:59 PM

Reading time: 3 minutes

Sex work has been around for centuries but the advent of digital platforms certainly defined the sex industry and its many different subcategories. From kinky preferences like kinbaku to disturbing penchant like HuCow, the lactation fetish imagining women as human cows, the internet shaped sex work into a gigantic and unprecedented multi-million dollar industry. And like any industry in the service sector, the quality of specific sex workers and what they offer ended up being reviewed online, just as one would check a restaurant’s reviews on Yelp or give five stars to an Uber driver.

Not only did the sex work industry’s digital shift expand its spectrum of services made available—namely digital sex labour such as sex chats and webcam video calls like Slutbot—but it also provided sex workers with online platforms to promote their offline work. While many websites let customers and workers book ‘meetings’ and safely process payments, some online platforms saw more potential in the sex industry.

First came AdultWork.com then UKPunting.com

AdultWork.com was launched back in 2003 and soon became known as the “eBay for sex,” a term initially coined by WIRED. Here’s how it works: for a small fee, sex workers can create a fully detailed profile of their services that allows them to answer some of their clients’ usual requests. From hygiene concerns and dos and don’ts to the possibility of discounts, AdultWork offers clients the answer to almost any question they can have about a sex worker’s services and helps them choose accordingly. Far from being a flawless platform, this type of website has created what appears to be a safe space for sharing relevant information and promoting sex work online, which now makes up an integral part of the industry.

What is UKPunting?

While sex workers attempt to manage their services through platforms such as AdultWork, clients have also realised the potential of going online. With over 70,000 active members, UKPunting.com is the main website where sex workers’ clients can review their services. On the platform, customers or, as they call themselves, ‘punters’ comment and evaluate sex workers.

In a VICE article titled ‘Inside ‘UK Punting’ – The TripAdvisor of Sex Workers’, the website’s founder Nik—who, fun fact, also writes books with questionable titles like When the Fun Stops: The Modern Plague of Gambling Addiction and My Only Romance: Why I Turned to Paying for Sexspoke to the publication about how the idea for the reviewing platform came, “All existing sites were funded by advertising from service providers, therefore they had, and still have, vested interests in portraying a favourable and often false image of the paid sex scene. Negative reports were often suppressed and people like myself who told the truth were hounded and eventually banned. A number of like-minded punters suggested I start an alternative.”

At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with clients creating their own platform to discuss tips and preferences as well as to review sex workers’ services. But after taking a closer look at UKPunting, it’s clear that some comments and threads posted on its forum can have potentially harmful consequences on sex workers and their businesses. Unfortunately, this outcome is rather common on the website.

Because sex workers aren’t allowed on the platform, they are not able to comment on the feedback they receive from clients. The few of them that tried to do so were banned from the website while numerous sex workers were blackmailed in exchange for good reviews. Others went as far as to accuse UKPunting of revealing their addresses and identities, as first reported by DailyHawker UK, which puts them at risk of having clients stalk them.

The language and the terms used on the reviewing platform are often degrading and demeaning; a common by-product of toxic masculinity that isn’t unique to UKPunting. Legislation over sex workers’ rights is a debated issue that results in different outcomes depending on which country it takes place in.

Sex work has always been tangled in socio-legal, cultural and political aspects, so it is understandable that its online transposition made it even more complex to be regulated—just look at OnlyFans. The online manifestation of a sexual-economic exchange comes with its visible pros and cons. Nothing is black or white, and the internet is the main proof of it. It can be used by sex workers to create safe spaces and online communities such as AdultWork but it can also simultaneously foster hate speech and harassment on websites like UKPunting.

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