We won . . . we won . . . we won . . . we won!
Not guilty of breaching an Anti-social Behaviour Order
Today Ms CH was found not guilty of charges of breaching an Anti-social Behaviour Order (ASBO). The ASBO bans her for 26 years from loitering throughout the whole borough of Tower Hamlets, including the area where she lives. Every time she leaves her home she is at risk of arrest regardless of what she is doing. This ASBO must be abolished in its entirety.
Ms CH posed outside court with a placard from protests, organised by the English Collective of Prostitutes. She said:
“While I am very relieved that this case is finished, for as long as this ASBO is over me, I can still be picked up at any time. I feel that the police have taken advantage and that I have been treated badly.”
In court, police officers’ evidence was exposed as unreliable. They said they had seen Ms CH loitering but under cross examination they were forced to admit that they were driving fast and it could have been anyone!
ASBOs are orders, imposed using a civil standard of proof — the balance of probabilities. But breaching an ASBO is a criminal offence carrying a five-year maximum prison sentence. No complaints from the public or evidence of nuisance are needed in court and magistrates generally rubber-stamp unsubstantiated police claims. Prison sentences for loitering and soliciting were abolished long ago but the use of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders has reintroduced them through the back door.
Cari Mitchell, English Collective of Prostitutes commented:
“This case exposes how draconian ASBOs are. Hundreds of women have gone to prison on the word of a police officer alone. It also exposes the injustice of the prostitution laws. Women, who are constantly running from the police, are forced into isolated areas where they are more vulnerable to rape and other violence, and can’t come forward to report attacks. In some towns around the UK, street workers are saying that there are 10 rapes a week and rapists are allowed to operate with impunity. If there was ever a case for decriminalising prostitution this is it.”
This case also demonstrated the difference that public scrutiny and campaigning can make. A parallel case for breaching the ASBO was due to come to court last week. Ms CH was unable to attend because she was ill. Medical evidence was presented to the court but the magistrate decided to proceed regardless and found her guilty! For as long as the police and courts have the power to criminalise sex workers this kind of persecution will continue. Sex workers in New Zealand said that after prostitution was decriminalised in 2003, they felt more able to insist on their rights and demand protection from the police because they had the “backing of the law.”