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MPs and peers have this week been calling for reforms to Britain’s laws, which currently criminalise prostitution. An all-party parliamentary group on prostitution has urged Britain to follow the lead of countries such as Sweden and Norway, which make the purchase of sex illegal rather than targeting women who may have been coerced into selling their bodies. We spoke to Cari Mitchell, a spokeswoman for the English Collective of Prostitutes.
It’s the first major cross-party report on prostitution since 1996.
Cari Mitchell told VoR that “We absolutely oppose this because criminalising clients won’t stop prostitution, it won’t stop the criminalisation of women, but it will make it much more stigmatising and dangerous for women.”
She points out that while it’s shown that poverty is the main driver behind prostitution, there is not one single recommendation in the report to tackle the benefit sanctions and cuts which women all over the country are facing.
What about the idea that the law should be targeting the men who use the services?
“It’s crazy. We agree with them that poverty is what drives women into prostitution but then to recommend that clients are criminalised makes it much more dangerous. It means that the police are going to use the laws to chase after men that we don’t want them to chase after and they are going to disregard again, even more, the men we do want them to go after – the ones who are violent.”
She says that after the last police crackdown on clients in late 2013, a woman was murdered in East London. Other women described running into back streets to get away the police and not being able to carry out the normal security measures such as checking out customers before they got into the car. “It’s an example of what happens when the police are given free rein of the laws.”
We put it to Mitchell that there are a lot of people who simply think that prostitution is wrong and shouldn’t take place.
“Those people should press MPs to make sure that women have the money in our hands not to go into prostitution,” she replies. “Women are doing really difficult jobs. I was cleaning toilets before I went into the sex industry.
“They are living in a bubble when they talk about choice.
“Women who work in the sex industry are no different from any other women – we are making the same choices, most of us we are mothers, we have to put food on the table.”
She quoted one woman who said she used to work previously in the sex industry and despite being raped during that time, she said that she would go back into the sex trade if it was a question of necessity to feed her children and be able to pay bills to maintain the household.
Nobody should be condemned for getting out and doing what is necessary to earn some money to pay the household bills, Mitchell said.