ECP statement to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women 2006
For an end to the discrimination of prostitute women everywhere. Our workshops at the Beijing forum in 1995 were attended by sex workers from many countries, South and North. They made clear how much we have in common — all supported decriminalization and viable economic alternatives to prostitution.
Founded in 1975, the English Collective of prostitutes has a long history of fighting violence against sex workers. The recent murders of five women who were working as prostitutes in Ipswich has focused public attention on how the criminalisation of sex workers makes women vulnerable to violence. Unlike the UK government’s present punitive direction on prostitution, the overwhelming public response has been of compassion for, and empathy with the murdered women and their families, with demands that prostitute women be afforded the safety and protection from violence that all women are entitled to. Most people agree with us that policies of ´zero tolerance´ and police crackdowns turn women into ‘undesirables’ and push them into more isolated, less well lit areas, away from the concern and protection of the community.
In the UK, around 200 women are killed in a year, half by partners or ex partners. In 2006, eleven prostitute women were murdered, the highest number in seventeen years.
Following the UN Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing 1995) the International Prostitutes Collective (of which we are a founding organisation) demanded that measures designed to protect all women from violence should be implemented in relation to prostitute women and that prostitute women should be included in definitions of especially vulnerable women. (Some Mother’s Daughter. The hidden movement of prostitute women against violence. Crossroads Books 1999, International Prostitutes Collective).
We are calling for:
Abolition of the prostitution laws, which in criminalising sex workers, increase all women’s vulnerability to violence. The laws also prevent women from advertising and working from premises with other women, which would make working conditions safer.
Decriminalisation was introduced in New Zealand a few years ago after the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective formed a broad coalition to press for it. The British government never looked into it despite its positive impact on women.
“Some women have come off the street and advertise using their mobile phones. There has been no increase in numbers of women working as prostitutes. Decriminalisation has made a big difference to whether women feel able to report rape and other violence.”
- Time and resources now spent arresting and prosecuting sex workers (and non-violent clients) to be redirected towards protecting prostitute women and children from violence. Offences such as rape, sexual assault, kidnapping, false imprisonment, coercion and domestic violence, should be vigorously investigated and prosecuted whoever is the victim. Conviction rates for reported rape in the UK are 5.3% and in Suffolk, where five women were recently murdered, are an even more shameful 1.6%. The police are doing little to protect women in general and even less for those of us who work as prostitutes. Violent men, not their victims must be arrested.
- An end to kerb-crawling legislation which makes it more dangerous for prostitute women to work. Street sweeps of prostitute women and clients force women into more isolated areas, making women more vulnerable to rape and other violence. Women have less time to check out clients and are forced to take more risks. Proposals to criminalise clients must be rejected. Legislation introduced in Sweden, has led to displacement, increased stigma and violence. Swedish sex workers report:
“. . . sex workers feel hunted by the police, social workers, media and sometimes even anti-prostitution activists on the streets . . . sex workers are now more apprehensive about seeking help from the police when they have had problems with an abusive customer. They do not want to be forced to report the client.”
Abolition of Anti Social Behaviour Orders which are having a devastating impact on women working on the street and have reintroduced prison sentences for sex workers based on hearsay evidence.
- Repeal of anti-trafficking legislation which is primarily used to target immigrant women working from premises for arrest and deportation. Resources and the right to stay and seek employment for immigrant and refugee women facing violence and exploitation.
- Aboliton of Clause 6 of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority guidelines which is used to deny compensation to prostitute women, children and men (and many other victims) who suffer rape and other violence, on the grounds of “character and conduct” whether or not we have a criminal record.
- We oppose managed zones such as those implemented in the Netherlands. They create a two-tier system, excluding the most vulnerable women, who are left in greater danger of violence and arrest. Women report that the police “wash their hands” of these areas and women are stranded with potentially violent clients, away from the concern of the rest of the community.
- Services independent of the police and criminal justice system.
- Viable economic alternatives so that anyone who wants to leave prostitution has the help and support to do it. Most sex workers are mothers struggling to support their families or young people trying to survive.
11 January 2006