Letter: Police “welfare” visits are for intelligence gathering, sex workers claim

November 2016.

Dear Editor,

We write to support the concerns raised by SCOT-PEP that police “SHAW (Support, Health and Wellbeing) visits” to sex workers’ homes or places of work may be used to gather intelligence to bring prosecutions for criminal offences.

We share SCOT-PEP’s concern because that is exactly what happened here. In 2013 250 police raided 20 premises in Soho, central London. Closure Notices were put on the flats by police who then took cases to court to get Closure Orders ratified by magistrates. Other minor criminal charges were also brought against some sex workers. All the evidence presented in court came from information police had gathered from so-called welfare visits conducted over the last 18 months. During these visits sex workers had been encouraged (with assurances that the information was only being gathered because the police were concerned for women’s welfare) to give their name and age and speak about their hours of work, prices they charged, who their friends are, what they knew about whose name was on the lease or tenancy of the premises and much other information. This was then presented in court. All the Closure Orders were initially granted. Later some were overturned as a result of our campaigning. Salt was rubbed into women’s wounds by police who went on TV saying that the raids were needed to save victims of rape and trafficking. No prosecutions were brought for either offence and no victims were found. But migrant sex workers were targeted for arrest and deportation.

The impact of the raids and closures has been devastating and longstanding. To this day most women working in the area will not open their door to the police. Robberies and other attacks have gone unreported. The fury with the police has been compounded by more raids a couple of weeks ago.

We faced incredulity that the police could behave in such a way from some charities participating in “multi-agency” forums, similar to Encompass,. But if police assurances that their approach is “victim-centred” are not true and sex workers’ experience of the police is one of prosecution not protection then who can sex workers go to to report rape and other violence. This has very serious implications for safety and raises questions about whether the police can be trusted to implement the prostitution laws.

Yours,

Niki Adams, English Collective of Prostitutes

Crossroads Women’s Centre
25 Wolsey Mews
Kentish Town, London
NW5 2DX
Tel: 020 7482 2496
Fax: 020 7267 7297