Briefing on the Policing and Crime Bill

By the English Collective of Prostitutes
 Co-ordinators of the SAFETY FIRST COALITION

House of Lords, second reading Wednesday 3 June.

Using flawed trafficking statistics as justification, the measures target anyone involved in prostitution whether or not there is force or coercion.  They would drive prostitution further underground and sex workers into even more danger.  In the present recession, and combined with the Welfare Reform Bill also going through parliament, they will have a devastating effect, first of all on women and their families.

As a result of widespread public opposition, the government was forced to amend the offence which criminalised clients but nothing has been said about the continuing raids, prosecutions and convictions against women who are working collectively and independently, and usually discreetly.  This shows the government is not really concerned about women’s safety.

CLAUSE 13:  “Paying for sexual services of a prostitute subjected to force etc.”

The government was forced to amend this Clause.  “Controlled for gain” has been replaced with “force, deception or threats of a kind likely to induce or encourage someone to provide sexual services.”  Force is defined as including “coercion by threats or other psychological means including exploitation of vulnerability.” The difference between consensual situations where sex workers are working voluntarily, and situations where women are being coerced and suffer violence, has finally being acknowledged.

The element of strict liability remains. 

Clients face a hefty fine and criminal record for the offence committed regardless of whether he “is, or ought to be, aware that any of [the sex worker’s] activities are controlled for gain.”

Removing strict liability is supported by the Bar Association, Justice and Liberty.

Changing the existing offences of controlling and brothel-keeping to include force.

Existing offences of “controlling prostitution for gain” and “keeping a brothel used for prostitution” (SOA 2003), both of which carry a sentence of seven years, do not require force and coercion and should be changed in line with the change made to the offence of paying for sexual services.  Both offences are primarily being used against women working collectively. These prosecutions are rising yearly — from 3 in 2004, to 11 in 2005, to 39 in 2006, to 41 in 2007 (Answers to Lord Faulkner, Hansard 15 January 2009.)

In Committee, the government claimed that their intention was not to “criminalise those involved in freely consenting transactions.” Parliamentarians have visited and spoken to sex workers in Soho who are adamant they are not trafficked or forced, yet their receptionists (many of them ex-sex workers) whose primary role is to ensure sex workers’ safety) have been threatened with being charged with “controlling prostitution for gain”.

Once “controlled for gain” in this 2009 Act is changed to include force and coercion then “controlled for gain” and “brothel-keeping” in the 2003 should be amended along the same lines.  Not to do so discriminates against sex workers.

Redefining a brothel to allow women to work together. 

New Clause 37 tabled for the Commons Third Reading by John McDonnell MP redefined a brothel used for prostitution to allow two women to work together enabling greater protection from violence.

Contrary to stereotype, most brothels are women run self-help ventures. Yet by law two prostitute women sharing premises to work constitute a brothel. Many women prefer to work in small self-run brothels because they offer greater safety, companionship and lower running expenses. Working indoors is 10 times safer than working on the street. The Home Office has acknowledged: “ . . .the present definition of brothel ran counter to advice that, in the interests of safety, women should not sell sex alone.”  (The Times 18 January 2006).  In January 2005, then Home Office minister, Fiona Mactaggert announced that two women should be able to work together from premises. Why has this been dropped in favour of punitive measures that drive women out of premises?

The Royal College of Nursing which supports the decriminalisation of prostitution voted at this year’s congress by 93% to: “make recommendations to the UK government to allow up to four sex workers to work together legally before requiring a license”.  They decided on four because that is the number allowed in New Zealand which has proven to be successful.

Trafficking has been used as the main justification for these proposals.  Figures which claim that “80% of women working in the sex industry in the UK have been trafficked” have been thoroughly discredited[1]. 27 academics have publicly denounced it as flawed[2].  The UK charge of trafficking for prostitution, unlike trafficking for any other industry, does not require force or coercion.  This enables every woman with a foreign accent to be falsely labelled a victim of trafficking!

CLAUSE 15:  Soliciting is persistent “if it takes place twice over a period of three months”. 

Soliciting which takes place more than once in three months cannot be described as persistent and could more appropriately be called “occasional”. To label it as persistent shows an intention to criminalise. It makes a mockery of the abolition of the term common prostitute (Clause 15 (2) (a)) as it will bring no reduction in the number of women arrested.

Criminal records prevent women from getting out of prostitution.  Women end up institutionalised as they cannot get other jobs, even when they are qualified for them.
Criminalisation breaks up families. Mothers end up in jail separated from their children, with disastrous consequences first of all for the children.

CLAUSE 16:  Compulsory “rehabilitation” under threat of imprisonment.

Compulsory rehabilitation was thrown out of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill a year ago. Why bring it back? Anyone arrested for loitering or soliciting would have to attend three meetings with a supervisor approved by the court. It is not an alternative to a fine as failure to comply may result in a summons back to court and 72-hours in jail. Women could end up on a treadmill of broken supervision meetings, court orders and imprisonment. Imprisoning women goes against recommendations of the widely respected Corston report (March 2007).

The Bill removes the only safeguard against false arrest. Why give police such wide powers? Kerb-crawling is an offence if it is “persistent”. Removing the requirement to prove “persistence, annoyance or nuisance” would increase police powers to arrest anyone on ‘sus’. Victims of institutionalised police racism and other prejudice are likely to be targeted. With a conviction rate for reported rape at a shameful 6%, why isn’t rape being prioritised over prostitution?  Given recent public condemnation of police widely abusing their powers under anti-terrorism legislation to target peaceful protesters and others, why is this protection being removed?

Oppose CLAUSE 20: Extending closure orders to brothels  

Closure Orders are already being brought against premises where drug use or “disorder or nuisance” are alleged based on “tenuous evidence in which hearsay evidence is admissible.” (See briefing by Release).

In February, we won a rare victory against a Closure Order.  Police claimed that women in two flats in Soho encouraged anti-social behaviour.  When examined in court, the police case was based on ONE third hand anonymous hearsay claim.  We countered with evidence from local people who appeared in person in court and prevented women being evicted from the safety of their flats.  This case exposed the shameful flimsiness of evidence commonly used to close premises.

The police expect most sex workers to be unable to come forward for fear of exposure and most magistrates to rubber stamp their action.  Instead of protecting the right to a fair trial, the Bill would lower the evidence threshold even further.

The new clauses would remove the need for anti-social behaviour to be proved.  Where the police believe that certain offences are being committed or “will be committed” including “causing, inciting and/or controlling prostitution for gain” they can close premises and the occupants must, within 48 hours, go to court to defend the closure.  Few people would even be able to get legal representation in this time.  “Controlling” is already being used to criminalise women working independently, collectively and consensually especially where there is a receptionist for protection.  Women will be thrown out of premises where it is 10 times safer to work than the street.

OPPOSE CLAUSE 25:  Lap-dancing to be reclassified as “sex encounter establishments”.

This would increase the cost of licensing and the stigma. Lap-dancers have described working collectively with other women with good safety systems, and earning more than they would in other jobs. Is this what the government finds objectionable?

OPPOSE PROCEEDS OF CRIME

Police and prosecutors have a vested interest in raiding brothels and prosecuting sex workers. This corrupting of the police has wide implications for all policing and prosecutions.

Since the Proceeds of Crime Act, raids have become profitable: the police keep 25% of any assets confiscated both at the time and from subsequent prosecutions (50% in some areas); the Crown Prosecution Service keeps another 25%; and the Inland Revenue the rest. It is common for police to seize any money found on premises they raid. Even if no one is charged, the money is rarely returned as police take advantage of sex workers’ reluctance to go public. Women who have worked for years to put money aside lose not only their livelihood but their home, car, life savings, jewellery, etc. This theft by law enforcement is the worst form of pimping.

We believe it is a main reason why anti-prostitution raids and prosecutions are now high up on the police and government agenda.  Government figures provided in response to questions by Lord Faulkner show a marked increase in prosecutions for controlling prostitution and brothel-keeping – neither offence requires force or coercion to be proved and are used primarily against women working consensually and collectively from premises.

The new clauses allow property to be seized before a person is charged where “a criminal investigation has started . . . and there is reasonable cause to believe that the alleged offender has benefited from his criminal conduct”.  They also expand the definition of an “appropriate officer” to implement these powers to include for example “an accredited financial investigator”.

FACTS ON TRAFFICKING YOU SHOULD KNOW

1. Trafficking figures are flawed.

Trafficking has been used as the main justification for these proposals. But the UK charge of trafficking for prostitution, unlike trafficking for any other industry, does not require force or coercion. This enables every woman with a foreign accent to be falsely labelled a victim of trafficking! The widely used claim that “80% of women working in the sex industry in the UK have been trafficked” was recently discredited on a Radio Four programme[3]: even if 80% of women working in brothels, saunas and massage parlours are not British, “foreign does mean forced”.

In response to questions by John McDonnell MP, the Home Office has disowned these figures. And its latest estimate that 4,000 women are trafficked into the UK a year cannot be verified as the Home Office claims they come from an “internal Home Office document”.

Information that the phones at the UK Trafficking Centre are answered by immigration officers indicates that far from providing protection anti-trafficking initiatives are primary aimed at the targeting and deportation of immigrant women.

2. Victims of trafficking are not being helped.

Despite government claims about prioritising trafficking, most victims get no protection.  In the last few weeks the Guardian exposed that 77 suspected child victims of trafficking went missing from a local authority care home over a period of two years.  Only four children have been found and there have been no prosecutions.  A surveillance operation at the home was cancelled, and despite it being known that children were disappearing more young people kept on being sent there.  What does this say about the priority given to cases of trafficking where harm may be occurring that resources couldn’t be found to place two officers outside the home to stop the children disappearing?  What does it say about the immigration authorities which worked hand in hand with the police and kept sending children there?  These children would not be better protected with the measures in the Bill.

SUMMARY

The Safety First Coalition agrees with the English Collective of Prostitutes that forcing prostitution further underground endangers lives.  Safety First includes anti-poverty campaigners, church people & residents from Ipswich & elsewhere, the Royal College of Nursing, the National Association of Probation Officers, members of the medical & legal professions, prison reformers, sex worker & drugs rehabilitation projects.  If prostitution is forced further underground women will be exposed to greater dangers and be less able to come forward to get help.  See separate quotes from members of Safety First.

Government proposals claim to offer protection and safety, and “support those involved in prostitution to develop routes out”. They do not.  In Scotland, since clients were criminalised in October 2007, the number of assaults on sex workers has soared.  Attacks reported to one project have almost doubled from 66 in 2006 to 126 last year, including eight reported rapes and 55 violent assaults.

The Policing and Crime Bill is going through Parliament at the same time as the Welfare Reform Bill which will have a devastating impact on women and what’s left of the Welfare State. As the economic recession hits, more women, especially mothers, are likely to resort to prostitution to support their families. Together these Bills are legislating for destitution and prostitution, and therefore the criminalisation of many more women and the neglect of many more children.

New Zealand successfully decriminalised all prostitution, both indoors and on the street, six years ago.  There has been no increase in prostitution and women find it safer.  Why isn’t New Zealand being followed?


[1] *“More Or Less”, 9 Jan http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00gdz3t/More_or_Less_09_01_2009/ 

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The English Collective of Prostitutes and the Safety First Coalition can be contacted at:

230a Kentish Town Road, London, NW5 2AB, Tel: 020 7482 2496, 07811 964 171 ecp@prostitutescollective.net  www.prostitutescollective.net

Members of the Safety First Coalition condemn prostitution measures in the Policing & Crime Bill.

Excerpts from Parliamentary briefings on 25 Nov 2008 and 3 Feb 2009

Andrea Spyropoulos, Royal College Nursing:

“I can see nothing in these proposals that makes women or men safer.  It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to criminalise individuals who are consenting adults having sex.  The Royal College of Nursing is clear that we support decriminalisation on the basis of health.  On health alone it is not sensible to criminalise people because it changes their behaviour and puts them at risk. I believe the general public are agreed on the need for decriminalisation.”

Sue Conlan, lawyer:

“I think it is very important to realise there doesn’t have to be coercion for trafficking to be proved. I have represented women who were convicted of trafficking because they have immigrant women working for them even though in court it was proved that the women were working voluntarily.  I have also represented women caught up in raids who were alleged to be victims of trafficking.  They were sent to Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre and were facing removal when I visited.  All strongly refuted that they were victims of trafficking. They described earning money to support families back home. That is the reality.” 

Jean Johnson, Hampshire Federation of the Women’s Institute:

“I would like the government to look at the New Zealand system which has decriminalised prostitution.  The girls working there felt perfectly safe. They were working for themselves and they know their human rights, which is extremely important for all sex workers. In Southampton I had the most heartbreaking experience that a mum of a daughter could ever have. I saw young girls on the streets in an area, where, if they screamed for any help, nobody would have heard them.”

Dr Helen Ward, Medical Academic from the public health department of Imperial College:

“Between one in 10 and one in 12 men in this country pay for sex at some point. This is a very widespread phenomenon that covers men of all classes, all ages and backgrounds. This obsession with prostitution and the belief that prostitution is violence against women completely ignores the voices of sex workers and clients. It is a refusal to recognise that the real issues of poverty and exploitation need to be addressed by social policies that tackle low wages, the temporary wage economy and the exclusion of the rights of migrants and asylum seekers and their rights to work.”

Father David Gilmore:

“My parish includes a large number of sex workers. My concern as the rector of Soho is that any legislation such as this will drive people underground.  Rather than remove prostitution from our land it will remove sex from the safety of a room with a receptionist. I don’t want to officiate at the funeral of any sex worker in my patch and have to say to a government “ I told you so – it wouldn’t work.” Nor do I want to see the indignity of people forced back onto the streets or sex workers living in fear of attack. I hope this legislation is radically examined and amended.”


[1] More Or Less”, 9 Jan http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00gdz3t/More_or_Less_09_01_2009/
[2] An academic response to Big Brothel, 2008
[3] More Or Less”, 9 Jan http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00gdz3t/More_or_Less_09_01_2009/