National Ugly Mugs (NUM), a multi-award winning crime prevention charity which has helped police to catch dangerous offenders throughout the country has today backed Highland MSP Jean Urquhart’s proposals to move towards the decriminalisation of sex work. 

Sex workers are frequently targeted by dangerous individuals but only a quarter report these incidents to the police which is of major concern for public safety.  NUM supports sex workers when they are victims of crime, sends crucial intelligence to police which they wouldn’t otherwise have access to and warns sex workers about dangerous individuals who could cause them harm.

The charity, which supports by an estimated 10,000 sex workers in the UK, has a huge impact despite operating on a tiny budget is formally supported by the Chief Constables Council and the National Crime Agency and receives much of its funding from the Police.

Alex Feis-Bryce, NUM Chief Executive, said: “Sex work itself isn’t inherently harmful or exploitative – those who say otherwise are not listening to sex workers themselves.  However, due the stigma attached to what they do and the fact that sex workers are marginalised by the laws which criminalise aspects of their work, sex workers are targeted by violent offenders.  On a daily basis we support sex workers who have been attacked or raped and frequently the offenders actually tell them they have targeted them because they won’t report to the police and if they do they won’t be believed.  In a criminalised setting these offenders will continue to get away with it because the vast majority of sex workers won’t report to the police. This is a major concern, not just for sex workers, but for the protection of the wider public.  If enacted, these sensible, evidence-based proposals could genuinely save lives.

”At the tragic death of Margo Macdonald, sex workers lost a great friend and ally and I am delighted that Jean Urquhart has taken her baton in advocating for the safety and human rights of sex workers.  This is a refreshing development given the misguided and frankly dangerous attempts by Rhoda Grant to eradicate sex work, which were founded not on evidence but on ideology. This also comes at a time when policing resources are stretched so to expect them to waste time focusing on enforcing ill-conceived, counter-productive laws would be a serious misallocation of resources.”




Further info

Despite being classed at a “tiny charity” in terms of expenditure and resources, in 2014 NUM won the Guardian Charity Award, the Third Sector Award for “Small Charity, Big Achiever”, theSexual Freedom Award and the Paolo Pertica International Award.  In addition, NUM was runner-up in the DSC Social Change Awards in two categories.

“I work as an escort and signed up to National Ugly Mugs and I have to say it has saved my life. I arranged business with a client… he was waiting in a car and [the number plate matched one] I had previously been given the majority of through text from NUM [which] said he was violent and robbed the girls. Because he hadn’t seen me I walked away… a lucky escape.”

(Female escort)

“One of my clients was raped, beaten kept prisoner for 2 days. Without the support from the dedicated staff and the NUM sharing of information the perpetrator would not have been apprehended.  Police believed he would have committed crimes and become more violent. NUM sharing was able to inform sex workers and staff and give his description.  Thankfully he was quickly apprehended and was given life sentence with the recommendation he serve 25 years - a very good outcome.”

(Third sector agency)


In addition, NUM has:

Prevented crime. A recent survey of sex workers who use NUM found that:

  • Over 46% said they’d avoided specific individuals as a direct result of our alerts.
  • Over 32% had avoided specific individuals as a direct result of our number checker.


Built confidence. Our survey also found that as a direct result of NUM:

  • Over 90% of sex workers said they were more likely to report incidents to the police.
  • 96% felt safer.
  • 74% felt that they were less likely to be targeted by dangerous individuals.


Improved police knowledge and attitudes. NUM has delivered training to around 400 police officers. The feedback evaluation found that:

  • Before: 15% of the police officers felt they had “good” or “excellent” knowledge of sex workers and how to engage with them.
  • After: 85% of officers felt they had “good” or “excellent” knowledge of sex workers and how to engage with them.
  • 77% said that they would change their working practice as a direct result of the training.
  • 100% felt that NUM is a useful tool for police.
  • 70% felt that NUM is underused and not sufficiently supported by the police.
  • 100% said they would use NUM when dealing with crimes committed against sex workers.