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.
We remember another precious life lost – in November 2018 sex worker Monika Stibla was found dead in Bolton. There was very little coverage of her death, apart from local news reports.
Over an eleven-month period, there were 25 reported raids on sex workers’ premises across the U.K. Nearly all the raids reported in this bulletin are justified in the name of anti-trafficking or Modern Slavery. Seven sex workers were arrested, two for immigration offences. Twenty-one workers were “safeguarded”.
“Safeguarding” is a misnomer. We have direct experience of it. During mass raids in Soho, London in 2013, scores of women were “taken to a place of safety”. When women said they weren’t victims they were left in the middle of nowhere to make their own way home. We later found out that they were held in the premises of a religious organisation that works with the police. During the raid, the police came in with dogs in riot gear, handcuffed women on the floor and then vindictively threatened to tell women’s families what they do for a living. No surprise then that women see “welfare visits” and safeguarding actions as a hostile act.
Other women picked up in raids are taken to detention or subjected to Engagement and Support Orders (ESOs) where they have to go to three meetings to discuss the “cause of their offending”. Research demonstrates the near-impossibility of exiting prostitution after three meetings and even the Home Office acknowledges this in its guidance. When women were able to exit prostitution this had little to do with ESOs and much more to do with factors such as “becoming drug free, access to children, fear of assault and poor health.” While even police officers admitted that ESOs had little deterrence value, if women breach these orders they can face severe sanctions including imprisonment.
This research also found poverty was a key reason for many women’s involvement in sex work, which ESO meetings did nothing to address. As these orders are ineffective in getting women to leave prostitution, they pave the way for increased criminalisation of women when they do not comply. They also put women’s safety at risk who felt they had to meet clients in less visible areas to avoid surveillance.
In January, a woman in Derby was fined £100 for loitering for prostitution and ordered to pay a Victim Surcharge of £30. How else can women pay a fine if not by returning to prostitution? First implemented in April 2007, victim surcharges further penalise and punish sex workers and expose as a scam claims that police and CPS policy is to treat sex workers as victims.
An astonishing 270 cautions have been issued to street workers in just one county in England since 2012. Convictions for loitering and brothel-keeping are registered as a “Sexual Offence”’, stigmatising a woman for life and preventing her from leaving prostitution to get another job.
This bulletin reports that a man who owned a caravan where two migrant women were working, was given a Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order despite there being no evidence that the women were trafficked. These orders carry draconian conditions and can be imposed without a conviction. They are part of a raft of civil orders (including Public Space Protection Orders and Closure Orders) that are creating a parallel legal system where people are punished on the basis of little evidence and without guilt being proven. This is a dangerous precedent that violates people’s civil and legal rights. These measures, like many others, are first used against sex workers and clients with the expectation that there will be little resistance. They are then rolled out to target others.
During this period many sex workers spoke publicly about being forced into sex work by poverty. Some of the coverage is here. Government research was published last November and confirmed that financial need and criminalisation create the “perfect cocktail of conditions” for undermining sex workers’ safety.
Edinburgh – A woman from Edinburgh, who was jailed for five years in 2013 under brothel keeping charges, had her appeal rejected by judges. She claimed she was the victim of a miscarriage of justice because there was a policy in place in Edinburgh to not prosecute brothel keeping cases, which had resulted in other women’s cases being dropped, but it was not applied to her. The judge at her original trial agreed that none of the women who worked for her agency were “in the strict sense” compelled to work but still ruled that Ms Patterson “exploited” them – a double standard that would not be applied to other employers. Ms Patterson has since died.
Bolton – A migrant sex worker was found dead in an alleyway in Bolton. No evidence was found of violence.
Wolverhampton – Police in Wolverhampton raided six apartments under suspicion of brothel keeping. Sixteen women who were believed to be sex workers were taken in for “safeguarding”, although there was no clarification as to what this meant.
Brighton and Hove – Two “parlours” in Brighton and Hove were raided by police, with a man and two women arrested on suspicion of running a brothel and human trafficking. No evidence of trafficking was found. Women in our network reported that all three women who were arrested were released without charge. However, over a dozen sex workers made formal complaints to the police about their treatment during the raid, which included the officer in charge telling women “did you know there is a job centre around the corner”.
Newquay – A brothel in a holiday let in Newquay was closed by police, and sex workers were “signposted” to support agencies. Police spoke about “concerns over modern slavery” but no-one was arrested or prosecuted for this.
Derby – A woman was convicted of “loitering for the purpose of prostitution” in Derby. She was fined £100 and ordered to pay a £30 victim surcharge.
Derby – A woman was convicted of soliciting and fined £155 for “looking into cars” on a Derby street.
Norwich – A woman is given a prostitute caution during a police crackdown which involved female undercover police officers posing as sex workers to entrap clients.
Tunbridge Wells – Three people are convicted of ”conspiracy to keep a brothel” after raids on a number of premises.
Staffordshire – A police crackdown on prostitution in Stoke-on-Trent resulted in 20 women arrested for “persistent soliciting” in 2018 – up from 18 cases in 2017. (Overall, since 2012 the police “Operation Calling” has resulted in “prostitute cautions” being given to 270 street workers. Twelve men have been taken to court for soliciting and 188 men have been ordered to attend courses to avoid prosecution for kerb crawling.)
The same media outlet reports that there were 388 charges of loitering and soliciting brought nationally in the year September 2017-18. This was down from 448 the year before, and 542 in the year to September 2016. Charities, National Ugly Mugs and Changing Lives, commented that this drop doesn’t indicate reduced criminalisation – instead sex workers are increasingly moving to off-street or online venues.
Hull – Under police Operation Senlac, 21 Section 222 orders have been issued against women which ban prostitution in the Hessle Road area. These orders have been in place for five years. If breached women are arrested and taken to court.
Nottinghamshire – Police target eight properties as “potential houses being used for sex work.”
Southend – Police raid a suspected brothel in Southend, arresting a woman on suspicion of immigration offences who was “safeguarded” by officers. What this actually means remains unknown.
Northamptonshire – Eleven addresses were raided by Northamptonshire police under ‘Operation Aidant’. One worker was “dealt with for immigration issues”.
Plymouth – Police raid and close a flat under suspicion that it is a brothel.
Essex – Several addresses in Southend, Brentwood, Basildon and Colchester were raided under suspicion of human trafficking. Three workers were “safeguarded”, and five people arrested and held in custody for questioning. No prosecutions for trafficking were brought.
North Wales – A closure order was made against a caravan after police produced evidence that it was being used for prostitution. The owner of the caravan was given a five year Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order, despite the fact that there was no allegation that the women were trafficked. Under the order the owner must notify police of any change in address and register details with the police of any mobile phones and bank accounts he holds. He is banned from travelling with sex workers, using any device that cannot record its internet browsing history and can’t carry more than £200 without a reasonable explanation.
High Wycombe – Five men are given cautions for kerb-crawling.
Manchester – A man who raped a sex worker is jailed. The judge commended the victim for her bravery in reporting the rape: “She not only had the courage to go to the authorities and complain about what you did, but also the courage to come to court to face you and read out her victim personal statement.”
Leicester – A closure order is brought against a flat because of suspicions of drug use and prostitution.
Ilford – Thirty officers from the Metropolitan Police and Redbridge Council raided five suspected brothels and closed down two flats. Fifteen women were taken away and “are being offered support to exit their involvement in prostitution”.
Ilford – the first man prosecuted for breaching a Redbridge borough wide Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) which bans prostitution related activity is ordered to pay £630 in fines, costs and victim surcharger. Redbridge is the first local authority in the UK to create a borough-wide zone to stop street prostitution. The PSPO gives council workers, police and others, the authority to issue a £100 Fixed Penalty Notice for breach of the order. A £1000 fine can be imposed by the court.
During this period there was a lot of media coverage about the increase in prostitution due to austerity cuts, the majority of which have targeted women and single mums in particular.
“She said she turned to sex work because her universal credit payments were not enough to cover her basic living costs. “It is horrible to say, but it is the easiest thing to keep us girls alive.”
A woman caught shoplifting said: “The manager said if I gave him [oral sex] he’d let me off. What could I do? It was that or have the police called. He said afterwards that if I did the same next week he’d let me have forty quid’s worth of stock. It seemed like a fortune.”
The woman had faced long waits for her universal credit payments, which she said did not cover her basic costs. In the end, I held out for two weeks. I got my [universal credit] money, and again it was short, and again it was gone on bills before I’d even thought of food. So, I left the baby with next door and went down to the shop… It’s been like that for months now.”
The ECP gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Inquiry into survival sex and our evidence is here.
 Carline, A. and Scoular, J. (2014). Saving Fallen Women Now? Critical Perspectives on Engagement and Support Orders and their Policy of Forced Welfarism. Social Policy and Society, 14(1), pp.103-112.
 Home Office (2010). Guidance on section 17 Policing and Crime Act 2009: Engagement and Support Order, London: Home Office.
 Carline, A. and Scoular, J. (2014). Saving Fallen Women Now? Critical Perspectives on Engagement and Support Orders and their Policy of Forced Welfarism. Social Policy and Society, 14(1), p.107.