Vice: London’s Romanian sex workers are worried that Brexit would screw them

June 9, 2016

By Margaret Corvid

Sex workers’ rights marching in Soho in 2014 (Photo by Jake Lewis)

Against the backdrop of the EU referendum campaign, London-based Romanian women sex workers are using EU law to challenge the police and fight for their rights.

 Under Operation Nexus, the Met are monitoring Romanian sex workers, rounding them up and ordering them to leave the country because they claim that sex work doesn’t count as legitimate employment.

With the help of the English Collective of Prostitutes, a handful of women are preparing to challenge this, arguing that the EU courts have ruled that self employed sex work is legitimate in terms of the right to stay in the country. The stated aims of Operation Nexus are to capture EU criminals and “high harm” individuals, but the women say that it’s targeting them unfairly – setting them up for deportation even when they don’t have a criminal record.

I’m a sex worker myself, working independently as a professional dominatrix. Leaving the EU would have little immediate effect on my working life. One reason that I so passionately support Remain is because I know just how privileged and lucky I am. For Romanian sex workers, a Leave vote would do more than make this essential legal challenge disintegrate – it would threaten their safety and their livelihoods.

Here’s how Operation Nexus works on the streets of London, according to Anna, a Romanian activist with the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP):

Over a few months to a year, Romanian women find that they’re getting ‘raided’ over and over by the police. The women are asked who they live with, what they charge, how much money they make. Police approach the women in a ‘friendly’ way, but fingerprint the women every time they talk to them, to keep track of each one.

 Then, the police suddenly come and detain the women, along with the UK Border agency – they bring the van with them. Right then and there, they serve the women with a deportation order, claiming ‘they are not exercising their treaty rights’. A photo is taken of each woman and it’s attached to each deportation letter. Some are taken under arrest and held for two or three days, and their passports are taken. They are told that in order to get their passports back they need to have a one way ticket back home.”