English Collective of Prostitutes
We urge you to oppose Clauses 13, 15, 16, 18, 20, & 25. The measures target anyone involved in prostitution whether or not there is force or coercion. They would drive prostitution further underground and sex workers into even more danger.
CLAUSE 13: “Paying for sexual services of a prostitute controlled for gain.”
1. Any sex worker who receives help may be considered “controlled for gain”. The Bill defines it as “an activity which is controlled by [a person who is not the sex worker or client] in the expectation of gain” — no force or coercion needs to be proved. A co-worker, receptionist (usually referred to as maid), partner, even a taxi driver may be considered to be “controlling for gain”.
2. Safer premises will be targeted. In December, police raided premises in Soho threatening receptionists with being charged with “controlling prostitution for gain”. Research shows that it is 10 times safer to work indoors than on the street. Receptionists are sex workers first line of defence against violent attacks and exploitation. If they are prosecuted women will be left to work alone. Who will such criminalisation benefit?
3. Clients face a hefty fine and a criminal record. Paying for sexual services will be a strict liability offence, committed regardless of whether the client “is, or ought to be, aware that any of [the sex worker’s] activities are controlled for gain.”
4. Trafficking figures are flawed. Trafficking has been used as the main justification for these proposals. But the UK charge of trafficking for prostitution, unlike trafficking for any other industry, does not require force or coercion. This enables every woman with a foreign accent to be falsely labelled a victim of trafficking! The widely used claim that “80% of women working in the sex industry in the UK have been trafficked” was recently discredited on a Radio Four programme: even if 80% of women working in brothels, saunas and massage parlours are not British, “foreign does mean forced”. In response to questions by John McDonnell MP, the Home Office has disowned these figures. And its latest estimate that 4,000 women are trafficked into the UK a year cannot be verified as the Home Office claims they come from an “internal Home Office document”.
CLAUSE 15: Soliciting is persistent “if it takes place twice over a period of three months”.
1. Such soliciting would more appropriately be described as occasional. To call it persistent shows an intention to criminalise. It makes a mockery of the abolition of the term common prostitute (Clause 15 (2) (a)) as it will bring no reduction in the number of women arrested.
2. Criminal records prevent women from getting out of prostitution. Women end up institutionalised as they cannot get other jobs, even when they are qualified for them.
3. Criminalisation breaks up families. Mothers end up in jail separated from their children, with disastrous consequences first of all for the children.
CLAUSE 16: Compulsory “rehabilitation” under threat of imprisonment.
This was thrown out of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill a year ago. Why bring it back? Anyone arrested for loitering or soliciting would have to attend three meetings with a supervisor approved by the court. It is not an alternative to a fine as failure to comply may result in a summons
back to court and 72-hours in jail. Women could end up on a treadmill of broken supervision meetings, court orders and imprisonment. Imprisoning women goes against recommendations of the widely respected Corston report (March 2007)
CLAUSE 18: Soliciting “another for the purpose of obtaining sexual services”.
The only safeguard against false arrest would be removed. Kerb-crawling is an offence if it is “persistent”. Removing the requirement to prove “persistence, annoyance or nuisance” would increase police powers to arrest anyone on ‘sus’. Victims of institutionalised police racism and other prejudice are likely to be targeted. With a conviction rate for reported rape at a shameful 6%, why isn’t rape being prioritised over prostitution?
CLAUSE 20: Extending closure orders to brothels
1. This charge is modeled on “crack house closures” which has been condemned by Release as “insidious”, based on “tenuous evidence in which hearsay evidence is admissible.” Like ASBOs, Closure Orders are part of civil proceedings, but breach of an order is a criminal offence carrying a six month prison sentence. Release’s found that “the court will never refuse a police application for a Closure Order.” They have witnessed “numerous cases where vulnerable people become displaced, eventually homeless and face the threat of criminal charges.”
2. Most brothels are small self-help ventures. The word brothel conjures up images of big exploitative establishments, yet by law two prostitute women sharing premises to work constitute a brothel. Many women prefer to work in small self-run brothels because they offer greater safety, companionship and lower running expenses. Working indoors is 10 times safer than working on the street. Even Fiona McTaggert admits that. In January 2005, as Home Office Minister, she announced that two women should be able to work together from premises. Why has this been dropped in favour of punitive measures that drive women out of premises?
CLAUSE 25: Lap-dancing to be reclassified as “sex encounter establishments”.
This would increase the cost of licensing and the stigma. Lap-dancers have described working collectively with other women with good safety systems, and earning more than they would in other jobs. Is this what the government finds objectionable? (See statement below.)
Proceeds of Crime – Profiteering from raids and the prosecution of sex workers. Since the Proceeds of Crime Act, raids have become profitable: the police keep 25% of any assets confiscated both at the time and from subsequent prosecutions; the Crown Prosecution Service keeps another 25%; and the Inland Revenue the rest. It is common for police to seize any money found on premises they raid. Even if no one is charged, the money is rarely returned as police take advantage of sex workers’ reluctance to go public. Women who have worked for years to put money aside lose not only their livelihood but their home, car, life savings, jewellery, etc. This theft by law enforcement is the worst form of pimping. We believe it is a main reason why anti-prostitution raids are now high up on the police and government agenda.
Forcing Prostitution Further Underground Endangers Lives. The proposals claim to offer protection and safety, and “support those involved in prostitution to develop routes out”. They do not. As the economic recession hits, more women, especially mothers, are likely to resort to prostitution to support their families. If prostitution is forced further underground women will be exposed to greater dangers and be less able to come forward to get help.In Scotland, since clients were criminalised in October 2007, the number of assaults on sex workers has soared. Attacks reported to one project have almost doubled from 66 in 2006 to 126 last year, including eight reported rapes and 55 violent assaults.
English Collective of Prostitutes Co-ordinates The Safety First Coalition which includes anti-poverty campaigners, church people & residents from Ipswich & elsewhere, the Royal College of Nursing, the National Association of Probation Officers, members of the medical & legal professions, prison reformers, sex worker & drugs rehabilitation projects.
Statements from women working in various areas of the sex industry.
Cindy — working from premises
I started working because I couldn’t live off benefits. Doing this work I wasn’t having to worry every day how I was going to pay my bills.
A women like me who works for herself, whether on the streets or in premises, classes her situation as a business not a burden. A lot of women have repeat clients and build up a rapport and a trust. Not only do the women provide company and maybe sexual favours but they become a counsellor and even a friend!! Criminalizing clients would scare these men away. We would be pushed further underground forcing us to take more risks by having to find ways of contacting clients secretly. Women will be left on their own because you don’t want to expose yourself by working with others.
Prosecuting a man would mean that the women’s job would come to light. The media coverage would affect her family in many ways as it did with mine. Years later this is still a major strain on me. I had to move home and change my children’s school as I didn’t want what I did to provide for my children to tarnish them. And people judge you long term. It is even worse if you get prosecuted and end up with a criminal record. What chance then do you have to get out of prostitution.
Michaela – convicted as a “trafficker”
I’ve been a victim of sexual abuse and domestic violence and believe every woman should be protected. I come from a poor rural area of Brazil. At age 12, I was forced to work as a domestic servant to help support my family. I was repeatedly sexually assaulted by two sons in the family.
I came to Britain to marry, after many years the relationship broke down, and I became a sex worker to get an independent life for me and my children. The wellbeing of people around me has been the focus of my life. That is why I opened a place to work indoors where it’s safer. I saved to open a health club in Manchester. I had all the health and safety checks by the council, and a receptionist to make sure women who worked there would be safe. I had a few women who came from Brazil and other countries. All were over 25 years, had been working in prostitution and were in no way forced. But because I am a woman of colour, and from another country, I was targeted.
I was arrested in October 2005, and convicted of trafficking. I pleaded guilty because the police threatened to charge my 18 year old daughter if I didn’t, and because my solicitor and barrister strongly recommended it. They told me that because the trafficking law does not require proof of force or coercion, only evidence that you helped someone from another country come into the UK who then works in the sex industry, then I was guilty.
The judge agreed I had treated the women “kindly”. He accepted “none of the women was coerced by you into acting as a prostitute . . . none was actually deceived as to the nature of the work they would be required to undertake . . .each had previously worked as a prostitute . . . You treated them in a kindly and hospitable way, inviting them to your home and social occasions. The police often frequented the premises and went out socially with women working there. The judge used this against me saying that it “undermined the public’s confidence in the police” as if I should be punished for the police’s behaviour. I was convicted because the police and CPS wanted to look like they had cracked a big criminal case — to get promotions and build careers.
For this, I was put in prison for nearly three years and separated from my children, the youngest was only six at the time. Children at that age need their mother’s protection. I was terribly distressed, and my children were deeply affected. Their behaviour changed, and they are still recovering from that separation. My ex-partner tried to deny me the right to see my youngest, and has tried to get custody. I was also prosecuted under the Proceeds of Crime Act. We lost everything – our home, savings, even personal gifts and belongings – which I’d worked so hard for. I’m 45, a single mother with two children to support, having to start again with nothing. Me, my family and friends were vilified by sensational and false reporting in the local press before trial. Any friends who tried to help me were either charged or threatened with charges by the police. My address was put in the local paper, and my daughter had to move home and could not attend college. Now the Home Office wanted to deport me. Legal Action for Women found me a good lawyer to try and stop the deportation. My British citizenship was revoked, yet I’d never committed a crime.
All I did was run a flat where women were able to work safely – why is that a criminal offence, did I deserve to spend three years in prison for that and to have my life and my family’s life ruined
Chloe – working as a lapdancer
“I’ve worked all around the country. I do three minute dances which cost the guys £10. I pay towards the cost of the venue, security and the DJ; after that, whatever I earn is my own. We work as a collective and prioritise safety. We have a good support network of door and bar staff. Someone always knows where I am. I take a lot of responsibility for the new girls as I’ve been around a long time.
“I can earn £250 for four hours. Worse case, I walk out with £50 and that’s still more than I would earn in a day job at £5 an hour. Nine out of 10 women turn to prostitution or lap dancing because there’s not enough money to survive. I work with students, mothers and all kinds of other women. Recently my mum couldn’t afford a pair of school shoes for my brother and sister. When I worked a day job I couldn’t help her, but now I can. If the government is offended by the work we do, then give us the financial means to get out of the industry.
“There is no pressure to have sex with men, only opportunities. I could go to a nightclub and have 10 times more of an opportunity to sleep with a man than I do in my workplace. In any case, if I want to have sex with a man, and if he wants to pay me, then so what? If I had kids and sleeping with a man for money meant my children could have food in their mouths, I would do it. And tell me one woman that wouldn’t.
“I haven’t met any women who were forced to work in clubs. Some women from other countries come here for salvation and help because it is terrible for them back home.
“They say we are degrading ourselves. Actually no. The issue is what kind of protection we get from the police and courts. My friend was raped in a supermarket car park. Some one very close to me was abused as a child. The cases got thrown out of court.
“If you bring in more regulations and criminalize the sex industry, you make it harder for women to work. Girls can’t insist on good working conditions or their rights. The industry will go underground and it will be much worse.”
Another woman complains:
“If the re-branding goes through, the stigma will increase and some women will be forced out of work or underground into the hands of pimps.
“Until two years ago, clubs were individually licensed with owners required to get health, safety and criminal record checks. Relaxing the licensing laws was a New Labour ploy to raise revenue. Why not demand a return to the previous system?
“Renaming clubs as sex encounter establishments is completely inaccurate and will set things back decades. You might as well re-brand night clubs as drugs and alcohol encounter establishments. What about sex scandals and immoral behaviour in parliament?
“If people want to get on their soapbox find a better target than other women’s livelihood.”
Extracts: Don’t take away my livelihood Wednesday September 17 2008
“I am an off-street sex worker. I don’t live a Belle de Jour-type existence, but nor am I the trafficked/drug-addled/pimped victim . . .
I am a single mother with two young children aged 4 and 6. Prior to doing this job – and it is a job – I was employed as a PA in a large, city-based firm. My job was a typical 9-to-5 – which, as everyone who has ever worked in such a job will know, means 7:30am to 6:30pm by the time you take into consideration travelling and (unpaid) overtime. I was dropping my children off at breakfast club at 8am and collecting them at 6pm, by which time we would all be completely knackered. The children go to bed at 7:30pm, meaning we were left with precisely 90 minutes to prepare and eat our evening meal, have baths, get ready for bed and read bedtime stories. It was like we were living in a whirlwind. I felt I never saw my kids – let’s face it, I didn’t (much) – there was certainly never much time for playing or talking or simply just sitting cuddling on the sofa. The guilt was getting to me. I was unhappy. I hoped they weren’t, but I was never sure. Yet, despite the long hours I spent away from home, I was earning just enough to make ends meet. Sure I could pay the mortgage, but we’d never had a family holiday. By the time my monthly pay packet came around, I would have literally just a few pounds in the bank.
It was by no means a desperate existence – we always had enough food, and the house was always heated – but it was quite empty from my point of view. My children are fantastic human beings and I wanted to spend more time in their company without us suffering financially, it was as simple as that. I wanted a job which would allow me to work flexible hours to fit around the children’s schooling, fewer hours, but without taking the drop in wages which a part-time office job would have lead to. Escorting seemed like the natural solution. I say “natural” because it felt natural to me. I am well aware that this is not a job everybody could do. But as a sexually-aware and sexually-experienced woman in her mid-30s, the thought of having sex with strangers did not terrify me. I remember thinking that I might even enjoy it (and that has proved to be the case).
I work from a flat on which I pay the mortgage – I do not have any landlord to worry about. I charge £150 per hour and I get enough enquiries to enable me to choose my own working hours. In a typical day I drop my children off at school at 9am, return home, shower and get changed into my alter-ego, Lara (we never use our own names). I then might have an hour’s appointment at 11am and another at 1pm, leaving me with a break of an hour in between to shower and refresh myself. I then fetch myself a late lunch and am at the school again to collect my children at 3:30pm. It works. I never see more than two clients a day; most days I see only one; on other days none at all. Yet in just three hours’ work I can earn the same as I used to earn in a week working at the office.
. . . My clients are on the whole middle-aged businessmen. I have never been treated with anything less than respect by any one of them. I have not been physically or sexually abused by any of them. Of course I have my security systems in place should anything go wrong, but so far nothing has. My children have their mother now, and not just on a part-time basis. I have time with them to enjoy their childhoods, without any of us suffering financially. I am not making big bucks – but I am earning a little more money to boot.
. . . Criminalisation [of men] would only serve to drive the industry further underground, leaving the women who are victims of trafficking even more vulnerable.
. . . making criminals of all men who pay for sex would result in myself and thousands of other women who choose to work in this industry becoming unemployed, and thus instead of contributing to the state (through our taxes) we would be taking from the state in the form of income support, housing benefit and so on. This is how we make a living; it’s an industry that prevents many, many women and their children from living on the breadline. If you are going to take our livelihoods from us, the consequences will be devastating.”
 *“More Or Less”, 9 Jan http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00gdz3t/More_or_Less_09_01_2009/