Briefing for MPs against Ten-Minute Rule Motion “Sexual Exploitation” put forward by Diana Johnson MP
Issued by The Safety First Coalition (SFC)
The SFC which campaigns to decriminalise sex work and prioritise women’s safety is coordinated by the English Collective of Prostitutes and was launched in 2006 following the murders of five young women in Ipswich. The coalition includes anti-poverty campaigners, church people & residents from Ipswich and elsewhere, members of the medical and legal professions, trade unionists, prison reformers, sex worker and drugs rehabilitation projects.
Contact: English Collective of Prostitutes
Of the approximately 72,800 sex workers in the UK — at least 88% are women.[i]
Prostitution has always been connected to women’s poverty – that’s why overwhelmingly clients are men and sex workers are women.
Prostitution is increasing because poverty is increasing. 86% of austerity cuts have targeted women. Child poverty has gone up: 30% and in some London boroughs and areas of the North-East and Midlands 55% of children live in poverty. Government policies of benefit sanctions and the introduction of universal credit have deliberately caused destitution and pushed more women, particularly single mothers,[ii] into prostitution to feed themselves and their families.[iii]
Since the pandemic destitution has skyrocketed and women’s organisations, including sex worker organisations like the English Collective of Prostitutes, report having to organise for food vouchers and donations to keep families afloat.
ISSUES RAISED IN PARLIAMENT
The Coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated poverty, homelessness and debt. Thousands of sex workers are dependent on food banks to survive. Demands for the government to provide 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, were picked up by some MPs who tabled questions to the government about the lack of support.
These demands for emergency help were not supported by the proposer of this motion.
Evidence submitted to the 2019 Work and Pensions Committee Inquiry into Universal Credit and Survival Sex focused on the impact of austerity on levels of prostitution in the UK. The Committee published its findings in November 2019. It recommended action against some of the worst injustices of the benefit system such as draconian sanctions and the five-week delay to get Universal Credit which have increased destitution and pushed many more women into “survival sex”.
The former homelessness tsar recently raised the alarm about growing destitution in the pandemic, warning mothers could have to “go out and prostitute themselves, so that they could put food on the table.”
Evidence from sex workers was also presented to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty who commented on “the harsh and arbitrary nature of some of the sanctions, as well as the devastating effects that resulted from being completely shut out of the benefits system for weeks or months at a time.”[iv]
The Home Affairs Committee 2016 Inquiry 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.” It called for “previous convictions and cautions for prostitution [to be deleted] from the record of sex workers”.
THIS TEN-MINUTE RULE MOTION IS WRONG AND DANGEROUS
- Criminalising clients undermines sex workers’ safety.
Sweden criminalised clients in 1999 and has been promoted as an example without proper scrutiny. A closer look shows that sex workers there 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. Despite claims that the law has led to a decline in prostitution, there is no actual evidence of this.[v]
After Ireland banned the purchase of sexual services, reported violent crime against sex workers rose by 92%. In France, a two-year evaluation of a similar law found 42% of sex workers were more exposed to violence and 38% have found it increasingly hard to insist on condom use. In Norway, sex workers have faced evictions, prosecutions and increased stigma – with migrant workers particularly targeted.
- There is no evidence that criminalising sex work helps victims of trafficking.
Evidence published by The Lancet, credible research institutions, and practitioners indicates that there is no causal relationship between criminalisation of sex work and reduction in trafficking.[viii] The UNAIDS Advisory group on HIV and Sex Work also notes that criminalising clients has not been shown to be effective in reducing trafficking.[ix] The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe has stated that in Sweden there is no empirical evidence to date that the criminalisation of clients has reduced human trafficking for sexual exploitation in the country.[x]
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.
Trafficking laws have been used as a justification for police crackdowns which have targeted migrant sex workers for arrest and deportation, and have distorted the public perception of how much prostitution is directly the result of trafficking.
In fact, research found that less than 6% of MIGRANT sex workers had been trafficked; many said they preferred working in the sex industry rather than the “unrewarding and sometimes exploitative conditions they meet in non-sexual jobs”.[xi]
The Home Affairs Committee Inquiry was clear on the difference between trafficking and prostitution: “… trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation is an important and separate issue from prostitution between consenting adults”.
- Labelling prostitution as sexual exploitation ignores the fact that thousands of women and their families rely on the income from prostitution to survive.
This is particularly true at this time of widespread poverty, low wages and exploitative conditions in other jobs, especially those traditionally done by women. Zero-hours contract work is often highly exploitative and workers have led campaigns for higher wages and better occupational health and safety. Sex worker led campaigns against poverty, exploitation, criminalisation and violence should be similarly supported. Closing down sites where sex workers advertise has been shown to increase the risks for sex workers and make it harder for women to work independently.
- To be effective, resources for sex workers must be non-judgemental, easy to access and prioritise getting money directly to women.
The 10-minute rule motion acknowledges the need for resources to help women leave prostitution. But women need money in their hands, not services that are judgemental, discriminatory and institutionalise them as victims.
In Scotland, sex worker led groups providing essential services (recognised as “best practice”) are locked out of government funding because of the stipulation that organisations have to agree that all prostitution is violence against women.
In the UK, the English Collective of Prostitutes, Support Not Separation, the Global Women’s Strike and a number of other women’s organisations as well as the Green New Deal for Europe are campaigning for a care income to address social and environmental justice. They point to the fact that 80% of women are mothers and that overwhelmingly mothers are the primary carers and are impoverished as a result. An income that addresses mothers’ poverty and recognises their vital contribution to society would go a long way to tackling the economic conditions that drive women, especially mothers, into prostitution.
- Decriminalisation works.
The Home Affairs Committee looked at decriminalisation as introduced in New Zealand in 2003. It acknowledged that “it has resulted in a number of benefits, including a clear policy message, better conditions for sex workers, improved co-operation between sex workers and the police, and no detectable increase in the size of the sex industry or exploitation of sex workers.”
Decriminalisation is supported by prestigious organisations such as: Royal College of Nursing, Women Against Rape and internationally by Amnesty International, World Health Organization, UNAIDS, Human Rights Watch, Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women among others.
Please note that a number of organisations concerned with trafficking support decriminalisation.
- Trafficking, rape and domestic violence.
There are already laws against rape, trafficking and exploitation which should be vigorously implemented.
Instead we face trafficking legislation being used to implement immigration controls rather than to help victims of trafficking, and the de facto decriminalisation of rape and domestic violence. Since the lockdown in March, domestic violence calls to the national helpline have gone up by 800%; and the murder of women by violent partners and ex/partners from two to three a week. Prosecutions for reported rape are the lowest ever – 1.4%! It is similar for domestic violence.
In addition, mothers who report domestic violence risk having their children taken into care as recent government research has shown. If mothers are unable to seek help to leave violent partner, they may have to go into prostitution to get the cash they need to escape. Many sex workers report a vicious circle of poverty, domestic violence and criminalisation. Support to break that circle does not come in the form of further criminalisation but of resources especially to mothers, and enabling women to come forward to report violence without fear of arrest, stigma, deportation, having their children taken into care, or further impoverishment.
STATEMENTS IN OPPOSITION TO THE MOTION
English Collective of Prostitutes
“This week, like every week since the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown, the ECP and other organisations have been giving out emergency payments and food vouchers to sex workers worried how they are going to make ends meet and get through Christmas. If women MPs want to help women exit prostitution they should be supporting this lifesaving work, targeting benefit sanctions and demanding money for mothers, not proposing legislation that further criminalises sex work which will inevitably drive it further underground, making it harder and more dangerous for women.”
Women against Rape
“Rape has been effectively decriminalised. The current arrest and conviction rate for rape (with under 1% of reported rapes ending in conviction) are a green light to violence. Domestic violence and murder have soared under COVID. In our experience, criminalisation of sex workers prevents most from reporting violence, as they fear prosecution themselves. Criminalising their clients would also make sex work more dangerous. It is effectively criminalising sex workers through the back door by making their work illegal.”
An Untold Story – Voices.
“We are a collective of women in Hull called An Untold Story – Voices. We have experience of street and online sex work and are campaigning against the poverty, violence and criminalization that women face. We took legal action to get rid of Hull City Council’s no-prostitution zone because of the harm it was causing to women. We want to be involved in any change to policy and law because the wisdom of our lived experience is key to shaping these in a way that does not inadvertently do more harm than good. We are disappointed that our local MP has put forward a proposal to change the law, which has not been shaped in consultation with the women most likely to understand or suffer from its effects, before we have had a chance to discuss it with her.”
“The evidence shows that criminalisation and repressive policing of sex work creates significant harms for sex workers, including increased risk of violence and increased transmission of HIV and STIs. These proposals do nothing to protect sex workers, they ignore the voices of sex workers, and, if adopted, will inevitably lead to greater harm, especially for those who are already vulnerable due to precarious working environments, for example, street sex work. If MPs are serious about protecting the health and well-being, as well as the rights of sex workers, they should be advocating for decriminalisation of sex work and related activities, rather than ratcheting up the current criminal justice approach”.
Hampshire Federation of Women’s Institutes
“For nearly 15 years Hampshire Federation of WI’s has supported and worked with the English Collective of Prostitutes to decriminalize prostitution because HCFWI sees this as the only way that “ working girls” can be really safe and protected, all the other schemes which we have examined fall short of keeping women safe.”
National Ugly Mugs (NUM)
“NUM is a UK-wide victim support and violence prevention charity for adults in sex industries. In 2019, we processed almost 1000 reports of crime and harm to sex workers and disseminated almost 370,000 alerts to sex workers warning them of dangerous individuals. Through our work we see that stigma and criminalisation (direct or indirect) deter sex workers from accessing police and public services.
We oppose Dame Diana Johnson’s Bill to criminalise paying for sex as any legislation that criminalises revenue streams for individuals reliant on this income is de facto criminalisation of sex workers. As we are in the throes of the SARS-COV-2 pandemic, we urge you to join us in ending survival sex. Whether we agree with the sale of sex in our society or not, our first step must be eradicating poverty and structural inequities. We urge you to hear from sex workers, about the impacts of this legislation.”
ASLEF (The UK Train Drivers’ Union)
“The prostitution laws force sex workers to work alone, leaving workers vulnerable to crime and the threat of losing access to their families. Sex workers should have the same rights as those in other industries, including the right to organise collectively and form and join trade unions. We believe that sex workers, like other workers, need and deserve our protection”
Amnesty International UK
“We know that internationally the criminalisation of buyers has exacerbated violence and stigma against sex workers. Sex workers who are undocumented or with insecure immigration status are affected the most. Poverty and marginalisation are root causes of sex work that must be addressed. Full decriminalisation of sex work provides the most effective framework to improve the human rights of sex workers, including the right to health and to access justice.”
Ipswich and District Trades Union Council
IDTUC is putting its name down as opposing this bill and backing the arguments put forward by the English Collective of Prostitutes. Criminalising the financial transactions involved in the sex industry does little or nothing to address the problems that give rise to people’s need or desire to engage in it. Numerous parallels can be found in the equally ineffective tactics used to try to control drug use. There are already laws criminalising violence and abuse, fraud and robbery, which should be used as appropriate to deal with the instances of these kinds of problems which do undoubtedly occur within the sex industry, as in they do in other sectors of the economy.
“I wish that people who know zero of our industry would stop making damaging decisions. I am wholeheartedly against the criminalisation of our customers, not only are they decent people who don’t deserve to be criminalised but they will be terrified to visit any premises where women work together in the interests of our safety.
We will be forced back onto the backstreet alleys and made as vulnerable overnight as women were in Victorian days. We won’t be able to feed our kids, we will lose our places of safety, our incomes and any peace of mind. At best we will be forced into poverty then debt then maybe living on the streets. What fool came up with this idea.”
Outreach worker on provision of services
“I’ve worked in outreach services for many years. Few of the women I work with want the outreach service. Why? Because they can’t exit sex work if other jobs aren’t available to them. For a service to work it needs to offer mental health support, housing and benefits support, childcare, substance misuse and legal advice. “Decriminalising sex work will remove the barriers in place and allow sex workers to access nonjudgmental services without fear of police”. Victoria Bee
SEXUAL EXPLOITATION: TEN-MINUTE RULE MOTION
Dame Diana Johnson
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to criminalise paying for sex; to decriminalise selling sex; to create offences relating to enabling or profiting from another person’s sexual exploitation; to make associated provision about sexual exploitation online; to make provision for support services for victims of sexual exploitation; and for connected purposes.
[i] Brooks-Gordon, B., Mai, N., Perry, G., Sanders, T. (2015). Calculating the Number of Sex Workers and Contribution to Non-Observed Economy in the UK for the Office for National Statistics.
[ii] Most sex workers are mothers working to support families. 74% of off-street sex workers cited the need to pay household expenses and support their children. Home Office. (2004). Paying the Price: A Consultation Paper on Prostitution.
[iii] Doncaster reports a 60 per cent increase in prostitution with charities saying: “Women are being forced to sell sex for £5 because of benefit sanctions.” Sheffield reports a 166% increase, while charity workers in Hull report: “ . . . women who are literally starving and they are out there to feed themselves. People are turning to prostitution to pay for gas and electricity because they are being left without money under current regulations.” https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/EPoverty/UnitedKingdom/2018/NGOS/English_CollectiveofProstitutes.pdf
[iv] Statement on Visit to the United Kingdom, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights London, 16 November 2018. https://www.ohchr.org/documents/issues/poverty/eom_gb_16nov2018.pdf
[v] Research by The Nordic Institute for Women’s Studies and Gender Research that found a decrease in men saying they buy sexual services from 14% (1996) to 8% (2008), is unreliable because buying sex was not criminal in 1996 so there were fewer reasons for men to lie. The Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare found it was “difficult to discern any clear trend” up or down (2007). Evidence of an increase in Thai massage parlours in Stockholm is ignored (RPS Rapport, 2012). Plus: Levy, J. (2015). Criminalising the Purchase of Sex: Lessons from Sweden. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Criminalising-Purchase-Sex-Lessons-Sweden/dp/0415739322
[vi] 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. Sex workers are three times more likely to experience sexual or physical violence where the trade is criminalised. Platt L, Grenfell P, Meiksin R, Elmes J, Sherman SG, Sanders T, Mwangi P, Crago AL. (2018). Associations between sex work laws and sex workers’ health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of quantitative and qualitative studies. https://www.lshtm.ac.uk/newsevents/news/2018/criminalisation-and-repressive-policing-sex-work-linked-increased-risk
[vii] A 2014 survey found that only 5% of sex workers who were victims of a crime reported it. This compared to 46% of victims in areas where police adopted a harm reduction approach. Data provided by National Ugly Mugs (UKNSWP). (2012-2015).
[viii] 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.
[ix] 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
[xi] Mai, N. (2011). Migrant Workers in the UK Sex Industry: ESRC Full Research Report.