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, 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.


English Collective of Prostitutes
Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement
Sex Workers Alliance Ireland
International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe
National Ugly Mugs
Basis Sex Work Project
Ugly Mugs Ireland
Action for Trans Health London
Action for Trans Health Edinburgh
University of Bristol Intersectional Feminist Society
Oxford SU Women’s Campaign
Trans Pride Brighton
Haringey Anti-Raids
The F-Word
Sex Work Research Hub
Belfast Feminist Network
Manchester Students’ Union Trans Campaign
Feminist Fightback
Bristol Burlesque Festival
Methadone Alliance UK
BDS in Newcastle
UoY Sex Worker Solidarity
NUS Trans Campaign
ASLEF Women’s Representative Committee
North London Sisters Uncut
Queer Agenda Sheffield (QASh)
London Campaign Against Police and State Violence
Clients of Sex Workers Allied for Change (CoSWAC)
PION – Prostituertes interesseorganisasjon i Norge, Norway
STRASS, France
Stella, l’amie de Maimie, Montreal, Quebec (Canada)
Fuckförbundet, Sweden
SWOP Behind Bars, USA
PACE Society, Vancouver, Canada
Sex Industry Network (SIN), South Australia
Desiree Alliance, USA
Sekswerk Expertise, the Dutch Sexwork Lobby Association, Netherlands
Coyote RI, USA

Janine Ewen
Dr. Lucy Neville, University of Leicester
Dr. Rosie Campbell OBE, Researcher, Beyond the Gaze, Leicester University
Laura Lee
Michael Egan
Shruti Arora, human rights activist
Gus Grannan
Dr. Eric Sprankle, PsyD
Francis Voisey
Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon
Nick Batley
Christian Schmacht
Julia Laite
Laura Graham, Northumbria University
Nicky Moffat
Dr Kate Hardy, Associate Professor in Work and Employment Relations, University of Leeds
Dr Paul J. McGinn
Emma von Linné, Fuckförbundet, Sweden
Katie Ward
Peter Schevtschenko
Kate Herrity
Suzi Mchugh
Jad Adams
Dr Laura Connelly, Lecturer in Criminology University of Salford
Sandra Dalåsen
Ellinor Abrahamsson
Sophia Hill
Hareem Ghani, NUS UK Women’s Officer
Silke Suck, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Sophia Monroe, Activist
Bethany Ravenwood
Paradise Razma
Mikayla Parsons
Alice Watson
Dr. Donald Blevins
Evie Dinah
Julie Webster
Heather Paterson
Luisa Lopes
Professor Nicola Mai

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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.