URGENT: Please fill out Parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee survey. Deadline 22 October.

The Women and Equalities Committee has launched an inquiry into prostitution. The survey can be filled out online here.

The answers to the questions must be in a word document and must be completed by the 22nd October.

Please send a copy of your answers to the ECP at ecp@prostitutescollective.net

Note that the Committee is not accepting answers which cannot be published (information can be entered anonymously) so click the ‘accept to publish’ button at the end of the survey.

Some of the Women on the Women and Equalities Committee have a track record promoting the criminalisation of clients (so-called Nordic model) but others involved appear to be more open-minded.

Remit of Inquiry

The remit of the Inquiry focuses on the inequalities and harms that sex workers experience at work and the harms associated with prostitution as a whole. If they don’t hear directly from sex workers, the research is more likely to interpret the questions of “harm” in a way that reinforces the view that prostitution is inherently violent and exploitative, that sex workers are vulnerable victims in need of saving by more police and repression.

Our Submission

In our submission we will be emphasising the preventable harms that are inflicted on sex workers by arrests, raids and criminalisation generally, using evidence such as: research[i] from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine which found that sex workers are three times more likely to experience sexual or physical violence where the trade is criminalised.

We will also be raising the harm caused by austerity cuts (89% of which have fallen on women) and specifically benefit sanctions which have increased destitution and pushed more women especially mothers into prostitution.[ii]

One question asks: “How does buying and selling sex affect attitudes towards women more widely?” This is important to answer because the claim that prostitution increases objectification of women, corrupts the society in which we live sabotaging any possibility of equality between the sexes[iii] is used to argue, including by women that call themselves feminists, that prostitution should be banned (not by outlawing poverty but by increasing police powers and criminalisation. It would be outrageous if speculation about whether prostitution increases the objectification of women and the impact this may have, took priority over the actual harms caused by criminalisation.

Thousands of women a year face police raids, arrests and prosecution without little public outcry among those who speak about the objectification of women. In fact, those that target prostitution as uniquely degrading seem oblivious to the degradation of women having to skip meals, beg or submit to a violent partner to keep a roof over their heads. Are we only degraded when we have our top off?

The inquiry is also interested in how those with specific protected characteristics under the Equality Act are affected by prostitution. The committee chair, Maria Miller, mentions trans sex workers in particular and they along with migrant, women of colour, mothers and young people in our network are submitting evidence to ensure that their experience is heard.

There is a question about the Public Sector Equality Duty which as we understand it means that local authorities and other public bodies like the police should consider whether their actions discriminate specifically against people of colour, mothers, trans people or people with disabilities for example. It would be good to raise here your experiences of discrimination.

International approaches

Other questions focus on international approaches in addressing the harms associated with buying and selling sex and that can be an opportunity to raise the harms caused by the so-called Nordic Model and the proven benefits of decriminalisation as introduced in New Zealand.

Some suggested sources of information to use:

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/

English Collective of Prostitutes. (2016). Decriminalisation of Prostitution: the Evidence. http://prostitutescollective.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Online-Symposium-Report.pdf

New Zealand which decriminalised sex work in 2003: “Since decriminalisation, over 90% of sex workers said they had additional employment, legal, health and safety rights.” Abel, G., Fitzgerald, L. & Brunton, C. (2007). The Impact of the. Prostitution Reform Act on the Health and Safety Practices of Sex Workers. https://www.otago.ac.nz/christchurch/otago018607.pdf

Also, 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

France which criminalised clients in 2016: “Since the law criminalising clients was introduced, 63% of sex workers have experienced deterioration of their living conditions, more isolation and greater stress; 42% are more exposed to violence.” Medecins du Monde. (2018)http://www.sexworkeurope.org/sites/default/files/userfiles/files/EN_synthesis_SW_final_2.pdf

Ireland which criminalised clients in 2017: “Reported incidences of violent crime against sex workers, have risen by almost 50% since the introduction of the law to criminalise clients.” 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

Sweden which criminalised sex workers in 1999: “63% of sex workers said the sex purchase law had created more prejudice from the authorities.” 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

Also, Levy, J. and Jakobsson, P. (2014). Sweden’s abolitionist discourse and law: Effects on the dynamics of Swedish sex work on the lives of Sweden’s sex workers, Criminology and Criminal Justice. http://lastradainternational.org/lsidocs/3049-Levy%20Sweden.pdf

Home Affairs Committee Recommended Decriminalisation of Sex Workers

Finally, it’s very important to urge the Women and Equalities Committee to back the 2016 Home Affairs Committee recommendations[iv] that sex workers on the street and working together in premises be decriminalised. Specifically, that:

“ . . . the Home Office change existing legislation so that soliciting is no longer an offence and so that brothel-keeping provisions allow sex workers to share premises.

The Committee’s report also recommended legislation to provide for the deletion of previous convictions and cautions for prostitution from the record of sex workers”.

If these recommendations were implemented it would immediately improve sex workers’ safety and welfare.

English Collective of Prostitutes
020 7482 2496

[i] A systematic review of all sex work research conducted in 33 countries from 1990 to 2018, found that criminalisation of sex work is linked to ‘extensive harms’ among sex workers (Platt and Grenfell, 2018). https://www.lshtm.ac.uk/newsevents/news/2018/criminalisation-and-repressive-policing-sex-work-linked-increased-risk

[ii] In some cities massive rises in prostitution are being directly attributed to policies such as benefit sanctions. Doncaster reports a 60% increase with charities saying: “Women are being forced to sell sex for £5 because of benefit sanctions” (The Star, 19 March 2014), Sheffield reports a 166% increase (The Star, 1 June 2014).

[iii] Iai News, 5 June 2017. Is Feminism Failing Sex Workers? https://iai.tv/articles/is-feminism-failing-sex-workers-auid-835

[iv] Report on Prostitution (Third Report of Session 2016-17)  https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmhaff/26/26.pdf