Press Release:: Bill banning advertising will undermine sex workers’ safety


Banning ads will put sex workers at risk. 

An organisation of sex workers is opposing a private members bill which aims to ban the advertising of sexual services, on the grounds that it would push sex workers out of premises and into greater danger and and/or into the hands of exploitative employers.   

The Advertising of Prostitution (Prohibition) Bill [HL] introduced by Lord McColl of Dulwich  is due to have a second reading in the House of Lords tomorrow. It aims to “make it an offence to publish, or distribute, an advertisement of a brothel or the services of a prostitute”. The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) is urging peers to oppose the bill.

Laura Watson, from the ECP, commented:

Preventing sex workers from advertising would undermine their ability to work independently and safely. Advertising is a safety strategy, allowing sex workers to screen potential clients and negotiate services. Banning advertising will force sex workers out of premises and many will end up on the street where it is 10 times more dangerous to work.[i] It could push sex workers into the hands of exploitative bosses leaving them at higher risk of violence, coercion, isolation and criminalisation.”

Cybil, from Luton, who has advertised on the web for two years commented:

“I built my own website which meant I could be my own boss and leave the parlour where I worked and where they took a large slice of my income. Now I can work with complete anonymity, from the safety and convenience of my own home. I keep every penny I earn, all without the interference of an agency or other ubiquitous “middle man.” 

Sex workers are already prevented by the law from working safely together. Brothel-keeping law makes it illegal for more than one sex worker to work from premises. Relentless police crackdowns on sex workers on the street, often in the name of targeting clients, break up safety networks and force women into isolated areas where they are at greater risk of attack.[ii]

The ECP points to the moralistic foundation of the bill as the only visible support is coming from the Christian charity CARE which has a track record of homophobia and opposes abortion. CARE campaigned ferociously against gay marriage and against the repeal of Section 28, which banned the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools.

Claims that “many adverts for sexual services in newspapers and online are a front for exploitation and coercion” are vigorously disputed by the ECP.

Paulina Vicol commented:

This is a fabrication. We have seen this kind of misinformation before. False claims that 80% of sex workers were victims of trafficking (compared to the actual number which is less than 6%) were used to justify the partial criminalisation of clients in the Policing and Crime Act (2009). Those of us who are immigrant women were targeted for raids and deportation as a result. This time round this deliberate misinformation must not be allowed to prevail. Even if it’s true that some of the women behind the ads are being abused, the way to help is to ensure that women have the resources to leave prostitution if they want, not orchestrate another crackdown.

Rising unemployment, benefit cuts and sanctions, low wages, increased homelessness and debt are forcing more women, particularly mothers into prostitution. Home Office research found that 74% of off-street sex workers “cited the need to pay household expenses and support their children.” People of colour, immigrant and LGBTQ people are disproportionally represented in sex work because of discrimination and stigma. Students speak of being forced into the sex industry to avoid being saddled with massive debts.

Record numbers of sex workers are already facing raids, arrests, prosecution and even prison. Police time and resources should go into investigating violence against sex workers rather than policing consenting sex.

This proposal comes just weeks after one of the world’s foremost human rights organizations, Amnesty International, voted in support of decriminalisation, and called on governments to review their prostitution laws and provide resources in the form of “state benefits, education and training and/or alternative employment” to help sex workers leave prostitution if they want.

New Zealand’s Prostitution Reform Act decriminalised sex work in 2003 with verifiable improvements in sex workers health and safety. A comprehensive five-year review found: no increase in prostitution, and that sex workers were more able to report violence and leave prostitution if they choose. We want a similar law here.

An evidence-gathering symposium: Decriminalisation of sex work – the evidence, hosted by the English collective of Prostitutes is being held in the House of Commons on 3 November, 11am-6pm. 

This symposium comes at the request of MPs for well-referenced, easily accessible information on prostitution. This is an opportunity for parliamentarians to hear first-hand the evidence from academics and other experts including sex workers, the experts on the ground, on key issues such as safety, health, policing, the perceived connection between prostitution and trafficking, and the impact of austerity on prostitution levels. We invite you to join us.

The English Collective of Prostitutes is a network of women who work or have worked in different areas of the sex industry – both on the streets and indoors. Since 1975, we have been campaigning for decriminalisation and safety of sex workers. 020 7482 2496

[i] Kinnell 1993

[ii] “Two of Britain’s most senior police chiefs” said: “operations to tackle the trade are ‘counterproductive’” and likely to “put the lives of women at risk”.