Guardian: Letter on why society is still failing prostitutes

Government feminists and Christian fundamentalists have joined forces claiming that prostitution is violence. They rightly say that attacks against prostitute women are common and that it’s only when five are murdered in one place that it starts to provoke debate.

They want to criminalise men who buy sex, as Sweden has done. But prosecuting clients is a dangerous diversion from prosecuting violent men. It doesn’t answer why it took five deaths in Ipswich to put women’s safety on the agenda. If prostitution is the problem, why are so many non-prostitute women reporting rape and other violence?

On February 16, Women Against Rape held a public trial where 30 rape victims testified about not getting justice. It was a gruelling catalogue of inefficiency, neglect and hostility by the authorities – the police didn’t collect the evidence or lost it; the CPS refused to prosecute or was ill-prepared; judges were biased. The result: violent men were free to attack again.

The authorities claim that sex workers in Ipswich are receiving help. But women tell us that most have moved elsewhere and that those who remain have been warned by police that once the media leaves, they can expect Asbos. Proposed changes in the law, currently in the Lords, would make arrest for soliciting easier and force women into “rehabilitation” under threat of imprisonment.

New Zealand has decriminalised prostitution on grounds of “sex workers’ human rights, protection from exploitation and promotion of occupational health and safety”. Five years on, sex workers are more able to report violence and find it easier to leave prostitution. Why can’t safety be prioritised here?

Niki Adams
English Collective of Prostitutes
Lisa Longstaff
Women Against Rape

Guardian Letters
Saturday, 23 February 2008