Open Letter: Demand police prioritise the protection of sex workers over the prosecution for prostitution offences

We write to protest the police treatment of a victim of armed robbery who was working as a sex worker when she was attacked. (Crime ref: 5214132/17).

Ms Maria Benito [not her real name] was working in a flat in Enfield when five men broke in with knives and robbed her and other women. As soon as the men left Ms Benito called the police but on arrival officers asked irrelevant and intrusive questions about how many clients women had and how much they charged. Ms Benito also reports that forensic evidence wasn’t gathered thoroughly. A few days later Ms Benito received a letter threatening her with prosecution for brothel-keeping and later with deportation. Her attempts to give a formal statement about the attack were ignored by police until the media started asking questions. Police have refused to take photographic and other evidence from Ms Benito that could have linked the robbery to others. Ms Benito has not been treated in accordance with the Victims’ Code[i].

Legal Action for Women complained to Enfield police on Ms Benito’s behalf but they refuse to acknowledge that threatening victims of violent crime with prosecution for non-violent prostitution offences deters women from coming forward and is likely to hinder the investigation into the crime. The attackers are still at large.

For further details, please see press coverage in The Guardian, Politics.co.uk and The Independent.

Background information is here.

Despite considerable risk to herself, Ms Benito courageously reported this attack because she wanted to prevent the men attacking other women. With her permission we are making the information public and demanding:

Enfield Borough Police be censured for its handling of this incident, and that it:

  • Acknowledges Ms Benito’s bravery in reporting this violent attack and apologises to her for mistakes in the handling of this case.
  • Prioritises the investigation and arrest of the perpetrators of these robberies.
  • Updates Ms Benito and Legal Action for Women in writing on the progress of the investigation.

We also ask that the Metropolitan Police:

  • Issue a statement that the prosecution of serious violent crimes is a priority for police over prosecution for non-violent offences such as soliciting and brothel-keeping.
  • Review police practices in line with National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) guidance and immediately cease raiding and forcing closure on premises where sex workers are working together for safety.
  • Ensure that sex workers who are victims of violent crime are treated in accordance with the Victims’ Code and where appropriate get an “enhanced service” for “persistently targeted” and “vulnerable” victims.

Signed by:

English Collective of Prostitutes, UK
International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe
SCOT-PEP, UK
Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement, UK
Sex Workers Alliance Ireland

Endorsed by:

Action for Trans Health Edinburgh, UK
Action for Trans Health London, UK
Aprosex, Spain
ASLEF Women’s Representative Committee, UK
Basis Sex Work Project, UK
BDS in Newcastle, UK
Belfast Feminist Network, UK
BesD – Berufsverband erotische und sexuelle Dienstleistungen, Germany
Black Women’s Rape Action Project, UK
Braich Goch – Red Arm cic
Bristol Burlesque Festival, UK
Clients of Sex Workers Allied for Change (CoSWAC)
Coyote RI, USA
Debby Doesn’t Do It For Free, Sex Worker Performance Art Collective, Australia
Desiree Alliance, USA
East End Sisters Uncut, UK
Feminist Fightback, UK
Feminist Ire
FIRST Decriminalize Sex Work. Vancouver, BC, Canada
Fuckförbundet, Sweden
Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP)
Global Women’s Strike Ireland
Haringey Anti-Raids, UK
International HIV/AIDS Alliance
Legalife-Ukraine (UCO)
LGBTIQA+ Greens, UK
London Campaign Against Police and State Violence, UK
Manchester Students’ Union Trans Campaign, UK
Methadone Alliance UK
National Ugly Mugs, UK
New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective
North London Sisters Uncut, UK
NUS Trans Campaign, UK
Oxford SU Women’s Campaign, UK
PACE Society, Vancouver, Canada
Payday, UK
Peers Victoria, Canada
PION – Prostituertes interesseorganisasjon i Norge, Norway
Plymouth University Feminist Society
POW Nottingham Limited, UK
Psychologists for Social Change, South Wales
Queer Agenda Sheffield (QASh) UK
Release, UK
Rev Paul Nicolson – Taxpayers Against Poverty, UK
Rose Alliance, Sweden
Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association
Sekswerk Expertise, the Dutch Sexwork Lobby Association, Netherlands
Sex Industry Network (SIN), South Australia
Sex Professionals of Canada
Sex Work Research Hub, UK
Sex Workers of Winnipeg Action Coalition (SWWAC), Canada
Sheffield Action for Trans Health
Stella, l’amie de Maimie, Montreal, Quebec (Canada)
STRASS, France
SWAN Vancouver Society, Vancouver, BC Canada
SWEAR WA (Sex Work Education, Advocacy and Rights), Western Australia
SWOP Behind Bars, USA
SWOP, New South Wales, Australia
SWOP NT Sex Worker Outreach Program Northern Territory, Australia
The F-Word, UK
The Unity Centre, Glasgow
Trans Pride Brighton, UK
Ugly Mugs Ireland
University of Bristol Intersectional Feminist Society, UK
UoY Sex Worker Solidarity, UK
Vixen Collective, Victoria Australia
Women Against Rape, UK
Zi Teng, Hong Kong

Individuals

Alan Waller
Alex Liddell
Alice Watson
Amelia Womack – Deputy Leader of the Green Party
Anastasia Enticott
Anna
Barbara Aster Outreach Worker, London, UK
Ben Loryman
Bethany Ravenwood
Brian Precious
Camille Melissa, Visual Activist, Whoretography
Catherine Moorhouse
Chelsea Chavis
Cheryl Giesbrecht, law student, University of Saskatchewan, Canada.
Chloe Gott
Christian Schmacht
Claudyne Chevrier, Canada
Constance McIntosh Smith
Dr Alexander Schulenburg
Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon, UK
Dr Donald Blevins
Dr Eleanor Janega
Dr Kate Hardy, Associate Professor in Work and Employment Relations, University of Leeds, UK
Dr Laura Connelly, Lecturer in Criminology University of Salford, UK
Dr Lynzi Armstrong, Lecturer in Criminology, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
Dr Paul J. McGinn
Dr. Eric Sprankle, PsyD, USA
Dr. Lucy Neville, University of Leicester, UK
Dr. Ludovic Foster, East Sussex
Dr. Ron Roberts
Dr. Rosie Campbell OBE, Researcher, Beyond the Gaze, Leicester University, UK
Dr. S Bowie
Ellinor Abrahamsson
Emily Burnham
Emma von Linné, Fuckförbundet, Sweden
Evie Dinah
Francesca
Francis Voisey
Gus Grannan
Hareem Ghani, NUS UK Women’s Officer
Heather Paterson
Jacob Berkson, UK
Jad Adams
James Tugend, author
Janine Ewen
Joanna Darrell, YnotbU
Jocelyn Elmes
Johanne Enright
John Oh, Australia
Julia Laite
Julie Webster
Kate Herrity
Katie Ward, UK
Laura Graham, Northumbria University, UK
Laura Lee
Leanne Melling, Australia
Les McLaren
Liam McCartney Esq.
Lil Wicked
Louise Morris
Lucy Platt, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
Luisa Lopes, UK
Marcelina Amelia, artist founder of Mesh Studio, UK
Marianne Davies.
Matilda Bickers
Matilda Hemming
Megg
Michael Chlopicki, Australia
Michael Egan
Mikayla Parsons
Monica Nencini
Nancy Lee Clark
Natalie Bennett, former leader of Green Party of England and Wales
Nataliia Isaieva, Ukraine
Nick Batley
Nicky Moffat
Paradise Razma
Peter Schevtschenko
Pippa Grenfell
Professor Nicola Mai, UK
Reba Maybury
Ruth Ayarza
Ryan Cole, sex worker, Sweden
Sabrina Mahfouz, writer
Sam Hope, UK
Sandra Dalåsen
Shaun Mellors
Shawna Ferris, Associate Professor & Program Coordinator, Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada
Shruti Arora, human rights activist
Silke Suck, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Sophia Hill, UK
Sophia Monroe, activist, UK
Suzi Mchugh
Ted Thomas
Tony Papard

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[i] The Victims‘ Code is a statutory document which sets out the services and information victims of crime are entitled to from criminal justice agencies — like the police and courts — from the moment they report a crime to the end of the trial.