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Sex workers denounce Louis Theroux’s Selling Sex documentary
Courtesy BBC Two

Sex workers have denounced Louis Theroux’s new documentary

Two participants in the forthcoming Selling Sex doc claim to have been misled about the storyline

Two sex workers featured in Louis Theroux’s upcoming documentary Selling Sex have written an open letter to the BBC, expressing their disappointment with the final edit of the film.

Written by Georgina Tyson and Ashleigh Williams, Tyson shared the letter on Twitter, which hits out at Theroux and producers for unfair editing in order to manipulate the show’s narrative. 

The hour-long film – due to air on BBC Two later this year – will explore the technological side of the sex industry, including how workers use social media and the internet to find potential clients.

In the letter, Tyson writes: “Our initial conversations with the production team made us hopeful we could contribute something valuable to the sex work community by helping destigmatise it by sharing our experiences… “(But) the communication and back and forth was relentless with the producer overstepping boundaries and asking us for free labour.”

The pair go on to claim that Theroux and his team hadn’t done enough research into the sex industry, despite apparently having a sex worker on the production team, and didn’t respect when Williams needed to leave set in order to meet a client.

Although acknowledging that Williams is the focus of the documentary, Tyson – a carer for Williams, who has autism – alleges that anything of value she added to the film was edited out, erasing her voice completely. “I consistently felt silenced throughout the process”, Tyson continues in the letter. “Outing myself as a sex worker to the entire world is a life changing decision and if I’m not speaking about my own sex work which is much different to Ashleigh’s then I’m not contributing anything of value to the sex work community.”

Williams also felt she had to justify her autism on numerous occasions to producers, with Theroux reportedly once questioning, “are you sure you’re autistic?” after Williams breaks down when discussing her childhood. In this situation, Tyson also criticises the BBC for “pushing the stereotype of sex workers being sex workers because something bad happened to them.”

Tyson also posted screenshots on a shared Instagram account of texts exchanged between Williams and a member of the BBC's production team, in which Williams expresses her concern about the erasure of Tyson.

In response to the allegations, the BBC said in a statement: “Georgina is not identified as being a sex worker in the film, nor is she a subject of the documentary. Our initial contact was with Ashleigh, and it was clear that she was the focus of the film, not Georgina. We have addressed their concerns in the final edit of the film, and have listened to their comments throughout the filming process.”

“We are confident that Ashleigh gave informed consent to be a part of the documentary as is evidenced by ongoing communication with her”, the statement continued. “Louis is well-versed with handling sensitive cases and has always had the utmost respect for the subjects of his documentaries.”

Read the full letter here.