Statement: In support of High Court legal challenge

We send our support to the women today challenging the law that requires people to disclose criminal convictions for prostitution.

Hundreds of women a year are criminalised under the prostitution laws.[1] Women of colour, migrant and trans women are most likely to be targeted. To decriminalise sex workers as this action demands would be in line with the recommendations[2] of the prestigious Home Affairs Committee which called on the government to:

“ . . . change existing legislation so that soliciting is no longer an offence and so that brothel-keeping provisions allow sex workers to share premises” and that legislation should be drafted to provide for the “deletion of previous convictions and cautions for prostitution from the record of sex workers.” 

Our soon to be published research Proceed Without Caution shows that: “criminal penalties make sex workers more vulnerable to crime, exploitation and becoming stuck in the sex industry for life”.[3] [4]

The study concludes that “reducing the harm’ that sex workers face[5] could be partly achieved by removing criminal penalties for those who sell sex, expunging existing records, and refocusing criminal processes on the more dangerous members of the public who commit crimes against sex workers with intent.”

At a time when increasing poverty, homelessness, low wages and debt are pushing more women in particular into sex work to feed themselves and their families, urgent action is also needed to reverse austerity cuts. Benefit sanctions, the benefit cap and other cuts have disproportionately affected women and have been identified specifically as the reason for the big increase in prostitution in some areas.[6]

Full decriminalisation was introduced in New Zealand in 2003 and has resulted in verifiable improvements in sex workers safety, health and welfare.[7] The most thorough government review found that “a provision to allow people to apply for historical convictions to be removed from their record had made it easier for sex workers to leave prostitution.”[8]

 


[1] English Collective of Prostitutes. (2017). Bulletins: Raids, Arrests and Prosecutions. Available at: http://prostitutescollective.net/bulletins/
[2] House of Commons Home Affairs Committee. Prostitution (Third Report of Session 2016-17). Available at: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmhaff/26/26.pdf
[3] Home Office. (2011). A Review of Effective Practice in Responding to Prostitution. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/97778/responding-to-prostitution.pdf
[4] Sanders, T. (2004), Sex Work: A Risky Business.
[5] The Home Department, op.cit., p.1
[6] Doncaster reports a 60 per cent increase, (The Star, 19 March 2014.) Sheffield reports a 166% increase (The Star, 1 June 2014) while charity workers in Hull report: “ . . . women who are literally starving and they are out there to feed themselves.” (Hull Daily Mail, 13 August 2013).
[7] Ministry of Justice. (2008). Report of the Prostitution Law Review Committee on the Operation of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003. Available at: http://prostitutescollective.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/report-of-the-nz-prostitution-law-committee-2008.pdf
[8] English Collective of Prostitutes. (2015). Decriminalisation of Prostitution: the Evidence. Available at: http://prostitutescollective.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Online-Symposium-Report.pdf