The English Collective of Prostitutes gathers reports from our nationwide network and the media, and regularly publishes them in the form of a bulletin. These reports show that police crackdowns on prostitution are widespread, that women are subjected to surveillance and raids, are convicted, fined, and even go to prison – all with devastating consequences.
In this bulletin we must also register again the crisis of poverty that women are enduring which pushes so many into prostitution to survive. A few weeks ago the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights visited the UK. His scathing condemnation of the government’s “‘punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous’ austerity policies” was headline news. He heard evidence from women, including mothers in the ECP, who said that they were working to stave off hunger. One woman spoke movingly saying “It was either go on the streets and earn money or give my child up.”
The Rapporteur emphasised that women had been targeted by the cuts and that levels of child poverty were “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster”. It was as if the welfare cuts had been designed by a “group of misogynists”, he said.
How did women MPs respond to the crisis of poverty among women? In July, a group of them initiated a debate in Westminster, not to tackle poverty, debt or homelessness, but to promote a crackdown on sex workers’ online adverts and the increased criminalisation of sex work in the form of criminalising clients. Other women who call themselves “women’s rights campaigners” lobbied and succeeded in closing down a strip club.
- Police crackdowns on sex workers on the street using cautions, prosecutions for soliciting and the use of civil orders have increased. Eight areas reported the specific use of dispersal orders, injunctions, community protection orders, public space protection orders and closure orders. Breaching these orders carry hefty penalties. For example, breach of CPOs and Public Space Protection Orders result in an on the spot fine of £100 but, if taken to court and convicted the penalty is a £2,500 fine – how are women supposed to pay this if not by selling sex? Breach of a Section 222 order (injunction under the Local Government Act) carries a prison sentence. Twenty two dispersal orders were issued in one area over one weekend. Police in Redbridge and surrounding east London areas say one brothel a week is being closed. Police crackdowns, including on clients, undermine sex workers’ safety.[i] Women end up running from the police and are forced to work in more isolated areas.
- There has been a big increase in reports of women going into prostitution because of benefit cuts and sanctions, the introduction of universal credit and of women exchanging sex for accommodation because of the housing crisis.
- Police are naming and shaming men suspected of kerb-crawling, building databases of car registration numbers and sending letters to men’s homes saying they have been seen in an area of prostitution – a clear breach of privacy.
- Seven women were arrested in Liverpool where police got £650,000 funding to protect and support sex workers.[ii] Evidence that sex workers are deterred from reporting violence by fear of arrest has clearly not been heeded.
Hull – police continue their crackdown on sex work as “women go to extreme lengths to make enough money to survive”. Poverty, violence including trafficking, drug use, mental health issues are all given as reasons women find themselves in sex work. Plain clothes officers are being used to entrap women and men.
Forty-nine section 222 orders[iii] were given out over a three month period. Thirty-three of these were to women for selling sex and they were breached 32 times. A further 32 warnings were given to women. Sixteen orders were given to men for kerb-crawling with a further 12 warnings. Section 222 (of the Local Goverment Act) orders ban people from a particular area. Breach of an order can result in a prison sentence[iv]. Here and here
Soho, London – the famous strip club The Windmill has been shut down for “serious breaches” of its licensing conditions. A “women’s rights group” hired former police officers to collect evidence and found that dancers breached the no touching rules. The Soho Society said it was concerned women working for the Windmill “may end up in a working environment where they are even more vulnerable than they are at present”.
Ilford, London – police continue their crackdown on sex work, which has seen 40 people arrested and 41 cautions issued in the last nine months
Norwich – police continue a crackdown on prostitution, including using dispersal orders to ban people from the area and issuing warnings to vehicles “acting suspiciously”
Enfield, London – police wil be issuing public space protection orders against people found to be engaging in anti-social behaviour, including prostitution
Swansea – police have increased patrols in response to reports of sex workers operating near a school
Oxford – a man and a woman have been jailed for 12 and 18 months respectively, for offences related to brothel-keeping
Hounslow – a man has been sentenced to 11 months in prison after being found guilty of brothel-keeping
Redford, London – the council have proposed an extension to the area covered by public space protection orders. The orders allow police to issue on-the-spot fines for a number of offences, including offences related to prostitution, without providing evidence or going to court
Hull – the council have reaffirmed their commitment to cracking down on sex work on Hessle Road issuing a further 43 warnings and 33 injunctions.
Guildford – police used new legislation to close down a brothel when it continued to operate after being issued with closure notices
Derby – residents of a flat were evicted after a closure notice was issued for anti-social behaviour including prostitution
Kirkcaldy – a woman was sentenced to 300 hours of community work, an electonic tag and a curfew for offences related to brothel keeping
Plymouth – police continue to crack down on kerb crawling, having prosecuted 19 people in the past two years. Owners of vehicles suspected of being used for solicitation are given a warning letter, whilst the registration plate is kept on a police database. Thirty-nine cars are currently on the database.
Kent – three addresses were raided, resulting in the arrests of three men suspected of prostitution-related offences
Redbridge, London – police continue their crackdown on prostitution, including through the use of dispersal orders. Twenty-four people were issued dispersal orders, whilst a further two were arrested, in a single weekend
Redbridge, London – the council has introduced fines for people found to be soliciting. The fines of £100 can be issued by police on the spot. The continued crackdown also includes additional police patrols and more CCTV.
Liverpool – a crackdown on prostitution has resulted in police arresting seven sex workers and one man who purchased sex. A police run Red Umbrella Project claims to protect and support sex workers.
Ilford, London – police are working in conjunction with Redbridge Council and the Ilford Business Improvement District to crack down on advertising sex work. The operation includes increased patrols and CCTV.
Birmingham – police continue their crackdown on sex workers and their clients, named Operation Daytona.
Hull – police use CCTV cameras to identify the registration of suspicious vehicles, with a warning letter to be sent to the owner of the vehicle
Birmingham – police have issued a closure order against a brothel
Trafficking raids – no outcome specified
Redbridge, London – police report closing one brothel a week, mention of trafficking but no arrests in relation to trafficking mentioned
Chatham – police raided a number of brothels where there was suspected trafficking. No arrests reported.
Reports related to poverty
Manchester – survival sex is on the rise as poverty drives young men into sex work
Nationwide – women report being offered free accommodation in exchange for sex and sexual control
Manchester – similar to above
Liverpool – similar to above
Grimsby – women report selling sex in order to provide food, heating and electricity for their children
Nationwide – students engage in sex work in order to fund university studies
Birmingham – an account of a night out with police officers includes references to women who do sex work in order to feed themselves, including one who was forced into it when her benefits didn’t come through for two weeks
Liverpool – a man tells of how Universal Credit forced his wife into sex work
Derby – women turn to prostitution for a number of reasons, including to pay for food, bills and heating
[i] A 2015 survey found that where arrests of sex workers and clients were high, 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).
[iii] Section 222 (of the Local Goverment Act) orders ban people from a particular area. Breach of an order can result in a prison sentence.