In response to complaints by a number of women in the English Collective of Prostitutes’ network, represented by solicitors Leigh, Day & Co, OFTEL has ruled that British Telecom’s action of cutting off the phones of women who advertise sexual services in phone boxes contravenes their obligation to “provide universal service” without “discrimination against particular customers”. Women’s phones will be immediately reconnected. Susan Shannon, one of the women affected commented
“I am very pleased that BT i s going to reinstate all the phone lines which had been terminated. Many working girls have been forced to take out new telephone lines at extra expense or even to move.”
We are urging everyone who was cut off in this way to come forward and claim compensation.
BT intends to retaliate by adding a new provision to their standard customer contract, and OFTEL, which represents subscribers, seems to have agreed this with BT without consulting anyone. With complaints against BT’s bills and services rising by one third in December 1991, we hope that OFTEL will be more concerned with protecting customers than with protecting BT.
This is not BT’s first attempt to discriminate against sex workers. In July 1992, BT gave evidence at a House of Lords hearing in support of Clause 6 of the London Local Authorities Bill which would have criminalised placing cards in phone boxes. The Lords ruled in favour of the ECP’s petition opposing this and struck out Clause 6.
BT claimed then that it was legal to cut off the phones. This has now proven not to be the case. But many women have paid a heavy price for BT’s illegality, in loss of income and anxiety about how they would be able to make a living.
BT claims that cards cover up emergency numbers and other useful information displayed in phone boxes. Yet at the Lords hearing BT agreed they had received no complaints about this.
BT’s main objection to women advertising seems to be that they do not profit from it . This is scandalous, particularly given their record profits of £101 a second (November 1991), including from sex lines where women earn less than £3 an hour. Prostitute women and the young people or pensioners they employ to put up cards, are trying to make a living in times of recession, growing unemployment and cuts in benefits and resources. According to government figures, the number of people living below the poverty line has increased from 5 million in 1978 to 12 million in 1988-89.
Preventing women from advertising in phone boxes would force more women and young people onto the streets where they will face increased poverty, arrests, violence and persecution. The prostitution laws make it illegal to advertise and many magazines, newspapers, newsagents, etc refuse to take ads for massage or other-services. Cards in phone boxes are a major way in which prostitute women advertise in order to stay off the streets. Women whose phones are cut off will no longer be able to work from premises.
Westminster Council has been leaning on OFTEL and urging residents to complain about the cards, claiming that this is the only litter problem Westminster has. Any increase in street prostitution is likely to result in more complaints than cards in phone boxes. Cards are not obscene; if any are, they can be dealt with under Obscenity law.
For more information contact:
Niki Adams or Nina Lopez-Jones, English Collective of Prostitutes