Action Alert: Please protest repeated police raids and harassment against women working together safely and independently

UPDATE

Many thanks to all who wrote to protest these raids. As a result, a senior policeman has agreed to meet the women and we hope that will help ensure that the flat isn’t raided again or closed down.  Please hold any more of your protest letters for the moment.  We’ll get back with more news as soon as we have it.

ACTION ALERT . . . ACTION ALERT . . . ACTION ALERT

Stop these police raids. Safety must be the priority.

Please protest repeated police raids and harassment against women working safely and independently from premises.

The Metropolitan Police have raided a woman’s flat in Elm Park, Romford, East London, four times in the past three months. The last time over 20 officers including some with guns came in with immigration officers and upturned the beds and other furniture with the excuse that they were looking for guns and drugs. Claims about coerced victims were used to justify the other raids. Police said that this information came from anonymous complaints. None of the raids have found any victims, arms or drugs.

Women believe that a local person with a vendetta is making these repeated hoax calls to the police. Legal Action for Women (LAW) wrote to complain about the raids and asked that the police investigate this harassment. Whatever the reason for the police to originally visit the premises they must by now be aware that there is a campaign of intimidation going on. Wasting police time and making hoax calls are serious offences so why won’t the police make that a priority to investigate?

Sandy, one of the women working in the flat comments:

“All the women here would describe themselves as mature. We are all mothers, working to support families. No-one is controlling us, we keep our own money, choose when we work and who we see. The premises has been a working flat for 10 years and there are no complaints from neighbours. Allegations that any of us are coerced and about drugs and guns are a fantasy and an insult. Someone clearly has it in for us and is determined to hound us out of our flat. The most frightening part is that the police are ready to do their bidding.”

Chronology of raids

  • On 20 September, 20 officers from Essex police, plus a fire engine, arrived at the address saying they were looking for a female working as a sex worker under duress. The premises was searched and no such woman was found.
  • On 25 September two officers visited saying they had been told there was an underage girl working as a sex worker. Again, they searched the premises, and again no such woman was found.
  • On 12 October six officers in two police cars came to the property saying someone had a knife in the property.
  • On 23 November, more than 20 officers including some with guns plus immigration officers came to the premises saying they were looking for firearms and narcotics.  They ransacked the premises for two hours before leaving.

There is a crisis of poverty, destitution and homelessness in the UK – highlighted most recently by the UN Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, who heard evidence from women pushed into prostitution by austerity cuts and Universal Credit. Mothers in particular are forced to depend on sex work to feed their families, but instead of recognition for this important contribution to society, women are disparaged and face the threat and burden of criminalisation. Feminist politicians and others focus on the exploitation and degradation of sex work. What about the violence and degradation of poverty?

The women in Elm Park are living in fear of the next raid and extremely worried for their safety. Sandy commented that if one of them is attacked they will never be able to report it to the police because they have no faith that their safety will be of interest or a priority.

It is ten times safer to work inside than on the street, yet the brothel keeping laws makes this illegal. Sex work must be decriminalised so that women can work together without breaking the law and aren’t running from the police on the street.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council itself states that “brothel closures and ‘raids’ create a mistrust of all external agencies including outreach services. It is difficult to rebuild trust and ultimately reduces the amount of intelligence submitted to the police and puts sex workers at greater risk”.

Please complain to the head of the Metropolitan Police and copy in the police officers who LAW has approached for help with this. Please also copy your letter to us at ecp@prostitutescollective.net

  • Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick: Comm.Po@met.police.uk
  • Detective Superintendent Guy Collins: Guy.Collings@met.pnn.police.uk

and copy to

  • Jon Cruddas MP: cruddasj@parliament.uk / mullanem@parliament.uk
  • Assistant Chief Constable Dan Vajzovic, National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for prostitution and sex working: Dan.Vajzovic@cambs.pnn.police.uk
  • English Collective of Prostitutes: ecp@prostitutescollective.net

Model letter

Dear Commissioner Cressida Dick,

I write to complain about repeated police raids against a flat in Elm Park, Romford. These raids undermine the safety of sex workers, not only because the raid itself is terrifying but also because women will be deterred from reporting violence to a police force focussed on trying to close their flat down and prosecute them.

[SAY HERE SOMETHING ABOUT WHO YOU ARE AND WHY YOU ARE CONCERNED IF YOU WANT – PERSONALISED LETTERS HAVE MORE IMPACT]

I understand that there have been four raids on this flat in the last couple of months with the last one involving 20 armed police plus immigration officers who tossed furniture and pulled out the contents of cupboards during the search. Officers said they were looking for guns, drugs and victims of trafficking but none were found during any of the raids.

Police said that information about the flat came from anonymous complaints. These calls are clearly a hoax and should be vigorously investigated.

Raiding a flat where women are working together independently and in relative safety is an abuse of power. The women are living in fear of the next knock on the door.  One woman commented to the English Collective of Prostitutes that they now can’t call the police if they have a problem with a violent client as they have no faith that their safety is of interest or a priority.

It is much safer for sex workers to work inside than on the street. Police guidelines acknowledge that “brothel closures and ‘raids’ create a mistrust of all external agencies  . . .  and put sex workers at greater risk”.

We ask that the hoax calls are investigated in order to stop this campaign of harassment against the women in Elm Park and that the police raids stop. Women need a written assurance that their safety is a priority. The must be no further efforts to close the flat down.

Yours sincerely,