West Midlands police claim to have “rescued five women believed to be sex trafficking victims” during raids on “suspected brothels” in Birmingham. Closure orders have been used against over 30 flats. However, no charges of trafficking have been brought. “Two women and three men were arrested on suspicion of managing a brothel”. Brothel-keeping (s33, SOA 1956) is the charge most often used against women working together consensually. No force or coercion needs to be proven. If the women were victims of trafficking, why are charges of rape, assault and kidnap not being brought against their assailants, instead of prostitution charges?
It appears that this may not be an example of “modern day slavery”. Rather anti-trafficking laws are being once again used to justify raids and closures of flats where sex workers are working with others under less exploitative conditions than McDonalds, Sports Direct . . . zero hours contracts.
Cari Mitchell, English Collective of Prostitutes commented: “It is ten times safer for sex workers to work inside than on the streets. What will happen to the women who were “saved”? Immigrant women caught up in similar raids have been deported.
Fabricated or “speculative” figures about the numbers of victims are widely quoted by politicians and the police. Meanwhile, genuine victims are frequently deprived of “protection, access to services and justice” and “treated as immigration offenders facing detention and removals. Child victims, forced to work as servants, won compensation because the police systematically refused to investigate the horrific abuse they suffered.
Over 70% of sex workers are mothers supporting families (in the UK or in other countries). Increased poverty and cuts in wages, housing and benefits mean that most women don’t have the option to give up prostitution and will have to find other ways of working – either alone to avoid brothel-keeping charges, or on the street. Similar crackdowns have occurred recently in Cardiff, Coventry, Edinburgh and Luton among other places. Police and council co-ordinated crackdowns of sex workers were the prelude the murders of the five young women in Ipswich seven years ago.
Last night’s BBC Inside Out focussed on the fact that “the high proportion of violent crimes and rapes committed against sex workers rarely result in convictions”. It featured a woman from the ECP’s network who was attacked whilst working in a flat. Like thousands of other women, she did not report this crime because she was fearful of being arrested. Several months later, 25 police officers burst into the premises and arrested her for brothel-keeping. This perverse use of police resources won’t change until prostitution is decriminalised.
The ECP Know Your Rights sheet is being used by sex workers and supporters around the UK to oppose police crackdowns of this kind.
English Collective of Prostitutes 020 7482 2496 www.prostitutescollective.net
 Closure Orders (Policing and Crime Act 2010) can be opposed. An appeal against the Closure notice must be lodged within 48 hours (and an adjournment can be requested). Police often overreach their powers and where their claims of anti-social behaviour or criminal offences are challenged in court they have often been found to be without foundation.
3 Joint Committee on Human Rights report on Human Trafficking, 2005
5 Evidence from New Zealand which decriminalised in 2003 shows:: no rise in prostitution; women able to report violence without fear of arrest; attacks cleared up more quickly; drug users viewed as patients, not criminals; women finding it easier to leave prostitution as convictions are cleared from their records. https://prostitutescollective.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/report-of-the-nz-prostitution-law-committee-2008.pdf
6 ECP Rights Sheet