WHAT THE VICTIMS OF THE POLICE RAIDS HAVE REPORTED TO THE ENGLISH COLLECTIVE OF PROSTITUTES AND LEGAL ACTION FOR WOMEN
- “Forty officers came into our building, approximately 20 went upstairs and 20 came into our flat. They were dressed in full riot gear, with dogs — everything but guns. They broke down our door even though they knew women were inside and even though we had already opened the door to let some police in.”
- “I was taken out of the flat in my underwear. It was only because a neighbour from upstairs gave me a cardigan that I had anything on at all. Was this to humiliate me and make a show for the cameras? And I was freezing. Other women weren’t given a chance to collect their coats so they were outside in the cold.”
- “I was handcuffed and pushed to the ground. The policeman shouted at me that if I didn’t tell him who owned the flat he would inform my mother back in Romania what I do. They only stopped when the maid intervened and told the police that I am an adult and that they have no right to tell my parents anything. But I am living in fear that they will tell my family.”
- “I was asked if I was trafficked. I said no over and again. I told the police I didn’t want to go with them but they made me. They said I was going to be taken to a ‘place of safety’. I was held and questioned for a little while then they wanted to just put me out on the street in the middle of the night. I demanded they pay for a taxi for me to go home. Did they organise for all the girls they had taken to go home in a taxi?”
- “Both me and the maid were handcuffed and held on the floor and she is in her 70s. What threat are we? They say I am a victim but treat me like a dangerous criminal.”
- “The police went to my home and searched it. My daughter was there and they told my daughter that I work in Soho and what I do. This was vindictive.”
- “They smashed up everything in our flat. We told them we had the key to the safe but they smashed it open all the same. They took £467 from me and refused to give me a receipt. They took over £1000 from another girl and told her that she will only get it back if she goes to court to prove it is hers. So the police get to keep our hard-earned money. Is that why they raided us because they wanted to steal from us?”
- “The police came into our flat, separated the girl from the maid and then made us both leave the flat while they searched it. Is this legal? Don’t we have a right to see what they are doing when they search the place? What is to stop them from planting evidence?”
- “I am Romanian and I was told by a policeman that I don’t have the right to be here. Yes I do. I am a self-employed sex worker and I have the right to live and work here.”
- “I was arrested for receiving stolen goods. They showed me CCTV footage that wasn’t even me. I was held for 23 hours. The police were rude and threatening to me. They kept on trying to make me take a caution telling me that it was just a warning. They took advantage of the fact that my English isn’t perfect. I was confused, scared and tired, and so I agreed. I have since found out that a caution is the same as a conviction; that it has gone on my record. What chance now do I have of leaving prostitution and getting another job?”
- “Two clients were in our flat when the police arrived. One was in the bedroom and one was waiting in the room outside. If the police really suspected that I was trafficked why didn’t they arrest the clients? I don’t want clients arrested but the police double standards are disgusting.”
- “I was thrown out of my flat without even my coat. I have asked over and again to be allowed to go back into the flat to get my belongings. On three occasions the police made an arrangement and then didn’t keep it. I still don’t have my belongings back.”
- “I’m doing this job because it is hard to get other work and I need money to pay my rent and live. I don’t want to stay in this job forever. I was lucky not to be there when the police raided but I am now terrified that they will come back and what I do for a living will come out.”
- “I was attacked when I was working in this flat. I called the police and they took ages to come. It was the maid that helped me push the man out of the flat. Now I will NEVER call the police again no matter what happens. They aren’t interested in our safety.”
Letter given out at Police Community Engagement Meeting on Soho raids 13 January 2014
RE: POLICE RAIDS, 4 DECEMBER 2013
Commander Alison Newcomb said the raids were “not about the prosecution of prostitutes” but to “close brothels where we have evidence of very serious crimes happening, including rape and human trafficking”. Westminster Council backed the raids saying they aimed to “help any vulnerable woman” and that women’s “safety is paramount”. No doubt this is the version of events that will be put forward by police tonight. But the victims of these raids tell a different story. We record below what they have reported to the English Collective of Prostitutes and Legal Action for Women.
If the aim was to help victims, why the “shock and awe” tactic of over 40 officers storming into buildings? Why bring the media , which then published photos identifying women? Why were women taken out of flats in their underwear, despite the cold and the indignity? Did the macho police organise for half-naked women to be on display as a titillating bonus for themselves and the media?
Soho is one of the safest places for sex workers to work. Most of the women who were evicted are mothers and grandmothers who lost their livelihood. A number ended up working on the street because they were left with no money before Christmas. Two-thirds of street workers report suffering rape or other violence in any six-month period. Who will be held accountable if women are attacked?
Women went to court to protest the closures. All but the last two cases were heard in front of the same judge. Women gave evidence that they were working independently, that they decided which days they would work, could turn down clients and — crucially — far from being controlled by a maid, they wanted to work with a maid because she helped protect them from attack. Police evidence amounted to claims that employment practices (common in other jobs) such as being required to work certain days of the week, between certain times, charge a specific amount of money for each service meant women are controlled (by an unseen, unnamed third party). The judge found women’s evidence compelling but sided with the police and closed the flats. The last two closures were heard by a different judge who refused to rubber stamp the police story and those flats remain open.
Police evidence included claims that there are “300 victims of sexual exploitation trafficking in London alone” and that “SCD9 believed that at least 50% of these victims had been through a Westminster brothel at some point during their time in London.” These figures cannot be verified but previous claims that “80% of women in prostitution are controlled by traffickers” have been thoroughly discredited[i]. Considering that the police also said that “this figure was considered so overpowering that the EU provided them a funding stream to tackle the issue” questions have to be asked about whether the raids were mounted to justify this funding.
The closures of sex workers’ flats are opposed by many other Soho residents and businesses because if the “girls” go, the whole character of this historic area will be lost forever. But the speed and ease with which the development proposed by Soho Estates’ Walkers Court was waved through the planning meeting, despite local opposition, is very worrying. When the two flats in Peters Street owned by Soho Estates are raided and closed by police, but the one flat owned by someone else remains open, questions must be asked about whether closures were aimed at smoothing the path towards gentrification. Unless more people express their objections and their commitment to historic Soho, this unique, diverse and tolerant community will be lost.
[i] ‘Prostitution and trafficking – the anatomy of a moral panic,’ 20 Oct 2009 http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/oct/20/trafficking-numbers-women-exaggerated