ARTICULATE, determined and educated, Ella, in her 20s, is a long way from fitting the stereotype of a prostitute.

Much of the reaction to recent police raids on Edinburgh saunas centred on the potential for "rescuing" and "rehabilitating" women involved in the sex trade. But, Ella – a member of collective the Sex Worker Open University – says that labelling all prostitution as violence against women causes more harm than good to those in the profession voluntarily.

"The only way to help sex workers is decriminalisation," she said. "Well-known women's groups are part of a system of structural violence, promoted by feminist 'rescue' organisations.

"If I needed help or I was attacked I would not go to an organisation that denies me the right to speak meaningfully about my life and does not believe what I say. The services set up to help sex workers are as much places for social workers as sex workers.

"If you believe all sex work is rape, then you license the police to tackle rape by disrupting my workplace and making me less safe. If I was attacked while working with a friend, I would never call the police as we could be arrested for brothel keeping. If I was at home, then my boyfriend could similarly be arrested.

"Neither the law nor women's charities who do not see a difference between assault and consensual activity, are doing anything to help sex workers."

In response to repeated negative experiences in medical centres and with women's charities, Ella and a group of sex-worker colleagues are founding a sex-worker helpline.

It is staffed entirely by current and former sex workers who are undergoing training in counselling and giving sexual-health advice in order to give support to women and men who, like Ella, have chosen to enter the sex industry.

Ella says: "I used to volunteer for a woman's organisation and would have been asked to leave had they discovered I was a sex worker.

"The medical and counselling professionals helping us to make Confide, our helpline, as effective as it can be want their involvement kept secret for fear of retribution from the groups they work for.

"For women's groups, sex work does not exist. We are 'prostituted women'. I accept that there are women who are drug addicted, trafficked and forced to work when they do not want to, absolutely. But that is not always the case and, for sex workers like myself, there is nowhere for us to go for help and support."

Ella entered the sex industry while at university. Having worked the usual student part-time jobs in bars, cafés and shops, she turned to prostitution for the money and for flexible working hours.

Having completed her degree and post-graduate qualification she has decided to remain a sex worker, a career about which she is open with her friends, siblings and boyfriend.

She looks to New Zealand, which decriminalised sex work in 2003, as an example of how Scotland should move forward.

She adds: "The raids in Edinburgh were not carried out for the benefit of the women working there - Why were the women interviewed in the street in full view of the public and newspaper cameras? Why were their belongings confiscated and not returned?

"Society, the justice system and the voluntary sector, are damaging women in the sex industry."