National Ugly Mugs (NUM), an organisation set up by the UK Network of Sex Work Projects (UKNSWP), is piloting an app that allows sex workers to share safety information amongst themselves via smartphone. The app is the latest addition to the existing ways the charity uses technology to fight stigma and keep sex workers safe from violence.

‘From the pilot we learned several important things about how sex workers preferred to use the technology, and about challenges such as language barriers, which will inform how we refine it,’ chief executive of NUM, Alex Feis-Bryce told The Guardian. ‘We’ve got to make sure that the technology we use is designed for those who need to use it.’

Set up in 2012, NUM uses an online reporting system, texts and email to create a network connecting thousands of sex workers and hundreds of support services. It is the first national scheme of its kind in the world, and sent out over 120,000 safety alerts to its 4,000 members in 2016 alone.

The system clearly works, with 32 per cent of sex workers avoiding meeting a potentially dangerous client as a direct result of the charity’s number checking scheme, according to their website.

‘Charities need to learn that if we don’t find a way to integrate technology into our services we will cease to be relevant to many of those we exist to help,’ said Feis-Bryce.

 

Words: Ellen White


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