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LONDON (Reuters) - Sex workers in London are being forced to slash prices they charge clients because of the impact of the recession on the British economy and an influx of foreign competition, putting themselves at greater risk of attack, according to a report.
The study by the Westminster City Council, the local authority which covers much of central London, said sex workers reported they were being forced to charge 50 percent less now than they had done a few years ago as they coped with the impact of the struggling economy like the rest of Britain.
That meant sex workers, who often worked alone, were accepting clients who appeared more dangerous, putting them at risk of rape, sexual assault, physical abuse and robbery.
"Falling demand and an increase in those selling sex has resulted in a collapse in prices, with female sex workers in particular taking more risks," said Councillor Ian Rowley, chairman of Westminster's Sex Worker task group.
"As a result the risk of violence has increased substantially."
Westminster covers Soho and Paddington, two districts long associated with the sex trade. The report said exact figures were hard to gauge but estimated there were 30 to 40 prostitutes working on the street in Paddington with up to 100 known brothels in Westminster, the highest number in London.
The number of women selling sex on their own off-street had increased considerably in the last few years, with the majority hailing from Eastern Europe, South America, particularly Brazil, and South East Asia, especially China and Thailand, it added.
"In our interviews with sex workers, they reported a 50 percent reduction in prices over the last few years," the study said. "This means that many sex workers are selling sex in more risky environments in order to make enough money, putting them at more risk of violence."
The report said the women working in "walk-up" brothels earned from about 20 pounds ($30) an hour, seeing six clients in one shift, while those in "mid-tier" establishments, often women working on their own advertising via the internet or telephone cards, would earn up to 200 pounds per hour.
In 2011, The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP), a welfare body for sex workers, said desperate British students were turning to sex work to help make ends meet.
Reporting by Michael Holden