Sex is why people go to Soho – even if they don’t know it.
By Jaymi McCann
The millions of revellers who descend on the central London area every year might think they are going for a cocktail but what really drives them to the UK’s centre of sex is the sleaze, excitement and colour of the red light district.Soho is the heart of Britain’s sex industry with an abundance of shops, erotic bookstores and – of course – brothels.But many of the flats where prostitutes work were shut down in recent raids, leaving many suggesting the area will become sanitised of all its character.“ They want to gentrify the area. Sell it off to the highest bidder,” one sex worker told me.
The blonde, who would only give her name as Cassie, said: “The authorities are treating us like second class citizens. We are not worth anything to them.”
Raids by the Metropolitan Police were criticised for unfairly targeting those working in the area.
Cassie adds: “Police said they were there to stop human trafficking and that some of us were being forced to work there but that isn’t true.
“They wouldn’t take the girls’ word for it and paraded them in the street in their underwear – they wouldn’t let them get dressed. How is that human?
“We use maids to keep us safe. They screen clients and are there when things go wrong. They are not pimps.”
Some 18 brothels were closed in the raids that were the result of more than a year of investigations.Selling sex is not an offence but brothels can be shut down if police prove the girls are being controlled.It was claimed the maids were evidence that workers were forced to do certain shifts or see a set number of clients – but the girls insist the system was only for safety.Girls who were there on the night of the raids have since complained that they were forced to stand outside in their underwear, that journalists and photographers were called and that some officers threatened to tell their parents or children about their profession.
Some immigrant workers were taken to a “safe place” despite insisting that they were not being forced to work.
More than 40 people were charged with a variety of offences but no girls were found to have been trafficked.
“We were not being coerced,” insists Cassie. “I had sex for money by choice. That is not illegal. There is CCTV in Soho. Now we are being forced to work in places that aren’t as safe, where we are more likely to be attacked.
“Police should be protecting us, not prosecuting us. We need support but now we are afraid to go to the police when we really need to. How is that justice?”Locals have spoken in defence of the sex workers, agreeing that they are safer in Soho.Reverend Simon Buckley, from nearby St Anne’s Church, condemned the way the situation had been handled.He said: “There is in my mind a clear case that something has gone extremely wrong here.
“We were given assurance that the girls would be treated with respect…The girls who continue to work in the unclosed flats say that they would not feel confident in turning to the police if they were a victim of crime.”
It has to be noted that police have received no formal complaints from sex workers affected in the raids and insist they are “committed” to working with the local community to make Soho crime-free.
But Rev Buckley adds that many girls won’t complain. They feel vulnerable and do not want to be identified.
Sex Worker of the Year 2013 Charlotte Rose believes brothels provide “safety in numbers” and that forcing prostitutes to work alone is not the way to go.
Charlotte, who makes £160 an hour, is to feature in a Channel 4 documentary focussing on the problems prostitutes face that will air tonight.“We should have the same working rights as anyone else. The nature of our work doesn’t change that,” she said.“There is a safety in numbers. There are dangers involved but why can’t we have someone in the house looking after people without it being a pimp? “What happened puts the girls at risk even more. The way the police treated them shows they aren’t worth anything. And if the police can treat them like that then why can’t a potential attacker?”
Much of the area is owned by Soho Estates who are pushing for redevelopment.
The company is owned by Fawn James, the granddaughter of sex-icon Paul Raymond, owner and advocate of London’s strip clubs.
Westminster Council gave the green light to a controversial new design that will see Walker’s Court – a street still used for sex work today – transformed into a haven of cafes, clothes shops and restaurants.
But Soho Estates have strongly denied that the change will dilute the area’s colour.
Managing director John James said: “We are not trying in any way to drive sex workers out of Soho. They are an essential part of what Soho is about.“On occasions a small number of individual sex workers may have to move to make way for a new development but that is no different from what happens in any big city. Soho is still the sexy heart of London and as far as we’re concerned long may that continue”. But Cassie isn’t convinced.“They may say that they are looking out for us and Soho’s best interests but they certainly haven’t asked us what we think would work,” said Cassie.
“I just hope no-one else is killed because they have been forced to work on the streets.”
Love for Sale with Rupert Everett airs tonight at 10pm on Channel 4.