Statement: Safety First – a coalition to decriminalise sex work and prioritise all women´s safety

Co-ordinated by the English Collective of Prostitutes

The tragic murders of five young women in Ipswich have brought us together as individuals and organisations concerned with women´s and children´s safety in the area and elsewhere. There is an unprecedented outcry of never again from many who have understood that women are made vulnerable by legislation which criminalizes them, by lack of support, resources and appropriate health treatment, by lack of viable economic alternatives, by violent men being allowed to get away with attacks so they attack again and again.

We are determined that value judgments over the way women live their lives – either because they are sex workers, addicted to drugs, or for any other reason – must never again be an excuse to deny protection. Everyone in our community deserves to be safe from attack, regardless of their occupation, sexual preference, race, age, nationality or lifestyle.

We know from experience that when prostitute women are not safe, no woman is safe. Many serial rapists and killers have a history of domestic or other violence. Violent attacks (whether by men known to the victim or by strangers) that go unreported or that when reported do not result in conviction, allow violent men to attack again and even go on to murder. The conviction rate for reported rape is a scandalous 5.3%, but an even lower 1.6% in Suffolk. Over 200 women are murdered each year, half of them by partners or ex-partners. Many of these murders are unsolved.

We are also concerned that these tragic murders not be used for more “tough on crime” policies which further criminalise people’s private lives. There have already been calls to increase the criminalisation of clients. Whatever any of us thinks about men paying for sex, safety must be the priority. We are all of the view that the criminalisation of consenting sex, whether it targets women or clients, pushes prostitution further underground, and makes women vulnerable to violence and exploitation. Zero tolerance and police crackdowns turn women into ‘undesirables’ and push them into more isolated, less well lit areas, away from the concern and protection of the community. Is that so different from how serial killers view their victims?

The resulting fines and ASBOs keep women working or land them in jail, wrecking their lives and separating them from their children.

In order to help make never again a reality, we have formed a coalition to look into the way prostitution has been decriminalised in New Zealand.

We want to look into the impact decriminalisation has had on:

 The number of women working, both on the street and indoors; their safety and their ability to report violence against them; how the police and the criminal justice system respond to attacks against women; the lives of other residents in the neighbourhoods where women work; men’s behaviour towards sex workers and women generally. We will also look at managed zones in Scotland, the closest example of decriminalization in Britain.

 We also want to look at what programmes women need to get off drugs if they want to and whether decriminalising drugs would be helpful.

 Finally, we want to look at viable economic alternatives to prostitution. Most sex workers are mothers struggling to support their families or young people struggling to survive, often they are both. Many have been in care or have had their children taken from them. Many are in debt. We want to examine what benefits, what training, what level of wages may help with poverty and debt.