Diana Johnson’s Sexual Exploitation Bill comes back to parliament on 5 February. Its main provisions aim to “criminalise paying for sex” and target online sites where sex workers advertise. Criminalisation of clients undermines sex workers safety. The Bill includes provisions to decriminalise sex workers and provide services. We comment below on why these two measures, which sound helpful, are in reality problematic.
Please urgently contact your MP to ask them to oppose this dangerous Bill.
You can do this in two ways:
- Use this template letter and tool created by SWARM here
- Use our tips below to write your own email or letter. MPs usually respond better to personalized letters where people speak about their experience and situation.
You can send your email via Write To Them or even better, by emailing direct – you can find out who your MP is, their contact details and what kinds of issues they are interested in at They Work for You.
Please remember to start your letter by saying where you live and give your postcode if you can so your MP can see that you are their constituent. Please also make it clear that you OPPOSE this Bill.
Whichever way you contact your MP, you may wish to include a link to our original briefing against the Bill here.
TIPS TO HELP WITH AN INDIVIDUALISED LETTER
- Criminalising clients undermines sex workers’ safety. In Sweden where clients are criminalised sex workers face increased stigma, are more at risk of violence, are less able to call on the protection of the police and the authorities, and more likely to have their children taken into care. In Ireland reported violent crime against sex workers rose by 92% after a change in the law. In France, research found that 42% of sex workers were more exposed to violence and 38% have found it increasingly hard to insist on condom use. Sex workers have not been decriminalised In Norway, sex workers have faced evictions, prosecutions and increased stigma – with migrant workers particularly targeted.
- There are already offences of controlling and brothel-keeping which claim to target those who profit from prostitution but they are most often used against women working together for safety.
- Where clients have been criminalised, promised services have not materialised. In Paris, France, only 57 women have been admitted to the exiting programme and migrants are specifically excluded.
- Closing online sites where sex workers advertise has been shown to increase the risks for sex workersand make it harder for women to work independently.
- Evidence from The Lancet, UN AIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work and other credible sources shows no link between criminalising sex work and reduction in trafficking.[i] [ii] Trafficking is enabled by poverty and women’s need and determination to escape it in order to survive as well as the hostile immigration environment that makes it impossible for most migrants to cross international borders unaided. Addressing these issues is the best way to reduce trafficking.
- Labelling prostitution as sexual exploitation is an insult to the thousands of women and their families who rely on the income from prostitution to survive. It is shocking that at the time of a pandemic which has exacerbated poverty, homelessness and debt, that Labour women MPs are pressing to further criminalise one of the few ways that women have found to survive. Why not instead back demandsfor emergency payments for sex workers in crisis, worker status so that women could get wage relief, sick pay and the benefits that other workers can claim, healthcare regardless of immigration status, and a moratorium on arrests.
- Decriminalisation increases sex workers’ safety and well-being. After New Zealand decriminalised sex work in 2003: over 90% of sex workers said they had additional employment, legal, health and safety rights; 70% said they were more likely to report violence to the police; 68% felt able to refuse clients (compared to 47% before[iii] – this is a key marker of exploitation. Decriminalisation could be implemented in the UK by implementing the 2016 Home Affairs Committee recommendation to decriminalise sex workers on the street and inside and for criminal records to be expunged.[iv]
For more info, please see the post here dismantling claims about the Sexual Exploitation Bill
[i] Anti-Slavery International, Submission by Anti-Slavery International to the Committee on Justice on the proposal of Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill, Northern Ireland Assembly, 2014 (citing Europol); “Keeping sex workers safe”, The Lancet, 2015, available at: www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(15)61460-X/fulltext.
[ii] UNAIDS, Guidance note on HIV and sex work, Annex 2: Shifting the strategic focus from reduction of demand for sex work to reduction of demand for unprotected paid sex, p 12, 2012
[iii] “There has been a remarkable shift in the balance of power between workers and brothel operators in the last 10 years. Sex workers are more able to refuse a client without management interference. Research carried out prior to decriminalization reported that 47 per cent of brothel workers had refused to see a client in the previous 12 months, yet research done after decriminalization has reported that 68 per cent of brothel workers had done this (Abel, 2010). Sex workers are utilizing their rights and have more freedom to govern their own sex work.” Abel, G. (2014). A Decade of Decriminalization: Sex Work ‘Down Under’ but not Underground. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/280445933_A_decade_of_decriminalization_Sex_work_’down_under’_but_not_underground
[iv] Specifically, it recommended: “. . . 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” and that legislation should be drafted to provide for the “deletion of previous convictions and cautions for prostitution from the record of sex workers.” Third Report from The Home Affairs Select Committee Session 2016-17 HC 26: Prostitution. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmhaff/26/26.pdf