Ilford Recorder: Letters – Don’t punish the sex workers

Niki Adams, English Collective of Prostitutes, Crossroads Women’s Centre, Wolsey Mews, Kentish Town, writes:

We are distressed to see “Street Watch” patrols in Ilford Lane which claim to target kerb crawlers as this is likely to push sex workers into more isolated areas where they will be more vulnerable to violence.

We have also seen how quickly such actions can turn into vigilantism.

In 2000 in multiracial Balsall Heath (Birmingham), neighbours lived side by side until gentrification divided the community.

The council and the police encouraged and legitimised a “Street Watch” organisation to do a “clean-up” campaign.

Sex workers in our network were hounded out of the area with threats and beatings, including the firebombing of one woman’s house. The voices of local women who were not opposed to sex workers were silenced.

One commented that she had “never felt threatened by prostitutes in my street, the same is not true of ‘pickers’ [the patrols] who gather on street corners. Obscenities have been shouted in my direction; lewd suggestions addressed to me.”

The local authority ignored the rise in sexism and violence against women and claimed the patrols had “transformed a traditional red light area into a safe and attractive neighbourhood with … increased property values.”

When nearly 50 per cent of children are living below the poverty line in some parts of the borough, shouldn’t the council’s efforts be focused on tackling the poverty that is forcing more women, particularly mothers, into prostitution to feed themselves and their families?