Breaking news: a self-appointed group of MPs, that got together for the sole purpose of lobbying for the criminalisation of sex workers’ clients, conduct Inquiry and recommend the criminalisation of clients! No surprise there then.
Cari Mitchell, spokeswoman for the English Collective of Prostitutes, commented:
“Criminalisation, whether of sex workers or clients, drives prostitution further underground, increasing stigma, discrimination and the risk of violence.”
In Ireland, reported incidences of violent crime against sex workers have risen by almost 50%.[i] In France, a two-year evaluation of the law[ii] found 42% of sex workers are more exposed to violence and 38% have found it increasingly hard to demand use of condom. In Norway,[iii] despite claims that sex workers have been decriminalised, forced evictions, prosecutions and increased stigma are prevalent with migrant workers particularly targeted.
“Before we did not go far with the customer: we would go to a car park nearby. But now the customer wants to go somewhere isolated because they are afraid,” she said. “I don’t like it. There is more risk that something bad happens.”[iv]
As for Sweden, the poster child for laws criminalising clients: 63% of sex workers said the law has created more prejudice[v]; plus, there is “no convincing empirical evidence that the law has resulted in a decline in sex work in Sweden, which was the law’s principal ambition”.[vi]
The other “revelation” from the APPG is that there has been an increase in prostitution.
Ms Mitchell commented:
“Blaming the internet for a prostitution “boom” puts the APPG in the same camp as Ian Duncan Smith, who notably attributed the increase in people going to food banks on growing “awareness” of food banks.
If the APPG is truly interested in reducing prostitution why isn’t their headline recommendation the abolition of benefit sanctions, directly linked with the rise in prostitution, especially on the street?[vii] It seems the APPG is more taken with the sensationalised, sexed-up story of pop-up brothels. Sex workers feel exploited and not by prostitution.”
If well-meaning MPs want to save women from sex work then take action against zero-hour contracts, low wages and exploitative bosses in the jobs that are the alternatives to prostitution. Support sex workers like we hope you support other workers fighting to improve pay and conditions.
As for the proposal to clamp down on online advertising, evidence[viii] from the US shows that such laws (SESTA and FOSTA) make it harder for the police to identify violence.
The report is shoddy. “Evidence” of trafficking and the involvement of criminal gangs is largely supposition, peppered with a couple of case studies and a few salacious texts. Evidence includes for example: an increase in hotel bookings “suspected (our emphasis) to be for the purpose of prostitution,” three quarters [of brothels in Bristol] displaying links to organised crime groups. Sexism and racism abounds: being a migrant (especially Romanian), working “on rotation” and not paying for your own advertising is presented as proof of trafficking.
Until there is a public apology for the fabricated statistics[ix] that claimed that 80% of sex workers are victims of trafficking, why should anyone believe this APPG’s figures? Research from the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women found that “criminalising sex workers’ clients does not reduce sex work or trafficking. Instead, it infringes on sex workers’ rights and obstructs anti-trafficking efforts.”[x]
Why did this Inquiry even need to happen? The prestigious cross-party Home Affairs Committee did a comprehensive Inquiry and recommended[xi] that sex workers on the street and working together in premises be decriminalised.
Decriminalisation isn’t perfect — we are all going to have to put our shoulder to the wheel if we want to win a fairer and more humane society, but it removes a grave injustice suffered daily by sex workers. Thousands of cis and trans women a year are arrested, given prostitute cautions, are victims of criminal charges or civil orders and are suffering other grievous abuse and being denied protection. Decriminalisation as introduced in New Zealand has improved sex workers’ working conditions and made it easier for those who want to get out, to do so.[xii] Over 90% of sex workers said they had additional employment, legal, health and safety rights (including 64.8% who said they found it easier to refuse clients – a key marker of exploitation).[xiii]
For comment please contact:
English Collective of Prostitutes
020 7482 2496
[i] The Irish Times, 4 September 2017. https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/dramatic-rise-in-attacks-on-sex-workers-since-law-change-1.3208370
[ii] Medecins du Monde. (2018). What do sex workers think about the French Prostitution Act? http://www.sexworkeurope.org/sites/default/files/userfiles/files/EN_synthesis_SW_final_2.pdf
[iii] Amnesty International. (2016). The Human Cost of ‘Crushing’ the Market: Criminalization of Sex Work in Norway. https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur36/4034/2016/en/
[iv] The Independent, 27 April 2014. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/view-from-the-streets-new-nordic-sex-laws-are-making-prostitutes-feel-less-safe-9294458.html
[v] Jakobsson, P. & Edlund, C. (2014). Another Horizon; Sex Work and HIV Prevention in Sweden. http://www.hiv-sverige.se/wp-content/uploads/En-annan-horisont-webb.pdf
[vi] Levy, J. (2015). Criminalising the Purchase of Sex: Lessons from Sweden.
[vii] Doncaster reports a 60 per cent increase (The Star, 19 March 2014) with charities saying: “Women are being forced to sell sex for £5 because of benefit sanctions.” 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.”
[viii] Techdirt, 14 May 2018. https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20180509/13450339810/police-realizing-that-sesta-fosta-made-their-jobs-harder-sex-traffickers-realizing-made-their-job-easier.shtml
[ix] The Guardian, 20 October 2009. https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/oct/20/trafficking-numbers-women-exaggerated
[x] Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women. (2014). Criminalising Clients Endangers Sex Workers and Creates Barriers to Exiting Sex Work: Lessons Learned from the Anti-Trafficking Industry. http://www.gaatw.org/advocacy/Bill_C-36-GAATW_brief.pdf
[xi] Third Report from The Home Affairs Select Committee Session 2016-17 HC 26: Prostitution. https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/home-affairs-committee/news-parliament-2015/prostitution-report-published-16-17/
[xii] The enactment of the PRA has empowered sex workers by removing the taint of criminality from their occupation’. The New Zealand Crime and Justice Research Centre. (2007). Exiting Prostitution: Models of Best Practice.
[xiii] Ministry of Justice. (2008). Report of the Prostitution Law Review Committee on the Operation of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003. http://prostitutescollective.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/report-of-the-nz-prostitution-law-committee-2008.pdf