COMMENTS ON GOVERNMENT’S PROPOSALS
We oppose the government’s proposals which would create new offences: 1) a new criminal offence of paying for sex with a person controlled for gain; 2) a new civil order to enable police to close brothels; and 3) amendments to the Sexual Offences Act 1985, to remove the requirements of persistence, annoyance and nuisance from the offence of kerb-crawling. There is also a proposal on lap dancing clubs to redefine them as “sex encounter establishments”. It is clear that the intention is to target anyone involved in prostitution whether or not there is force or coercion.
1. PAYING FOR SEX
Prostitution is not an offence at present and we see no reason why sex between consenting adults should be criminalised just because one party pays the other for her or his services. While the new proposed offence speaks of sex with a person controlled for gain, how will it be established that the person is controlled for gain? Controlled by whom? For whose gain? Will a co-worker, a maid, a partner or any one else who relates to a sex worker be considered guilty? Are clients expected to know what sex workers’ working arrangements are? Which arrangements will be deemed legal and which not?
One woman in our network now facing brothel-keeping charges is typical of many who have come for help over the last month:
Ms A is a former sex worker in her forties. To get an income for her retirement, she rented a room to a sex worker who pays her a small weekly amount. She has been charged with brothel-keeping. Because the offences of brothel keeping (1956 Sexual Offences Act) or controlling prostitution for gain (2003 Sexual Offences Act) require no evidence of force or coercion, it is likely that she, like many of other women being prosecuted under these laws, will be found guilty. But what is her crime? Renting to a prostitute woman? Should sex workers be so discriminated against that no one will rent to us?
Under the proposed offence, any client of the woman working for Ms A could be convicted. But what is his crime? The woman is working voluntarily and is likely to be making a better income than most women in commonly available low waged jobs.
The way that trafficking legislation is currently being used to target and deport immigrant women working independently warn us of the detrimental effects on women of this proposed legislation aimed at men who buy sex:
An immigrant woman in our network was convicted of trafficking and served three years in prison even though the judge accepted that “none of the women was coerced by you into acting as a prostitute . . . none was actually deceived as to the nature of the work they would be required to undertake . . . each had previously worked as a prostitute . . . You treated them in a kindly and hospitable way, inviting them to your home and social occasions.” As a result of the prosecution, her ex-partner tried to take her son from her, her life savings were confiscated under the Proceeds of Crime Act and she now faces deportation.
Why should brothels be closed without any evidence of nuisance, force or coercion? It has long been established that it is up to 10 times safer for women to work indoors than on the streets. Why are premises being targeted? This proposal will endanger further the safety of mothers and other women struggling to support their families through sex work.
This legislation is modeled on the ‘Premises where drugs used unlawfully’ provision of the 2003 Anti Social Behaviour Act which has caused indiscriminate evictions. Under this law the police can post a notice on the outside of a house and the occupants are compelled to leave within 48 hours. No independent evidence is needed and the police can act on the basis of hearsay.
3. KERB CRAWLING
At present kerb crawling is an offence if it is persistent. To remove persistence makes it impossible for women to work outdoors, and penalises men whether or not they are causing a nuisance.
Forcing Prostitution Further Underground Endangers Lives
The proposals claim to offer protection and safety, and “support those involved in prostitution to develop routes out”. They do nothing of the sort. Whilst headlines describe “An epidemic of poverty in Britain” women, including single mothers, struggling to support their families will be worst affected, and their safety endangered. As the economic recession hits, many more women are likely to resort to prostitution to feed themselves and their families; if prostitution is forced further underground by these measures the risks they are forced to take will be greater.
In Scotland, since a new law came into force last October, the number of assaults on sex workers has soared. Attacks reported to one project have almost doubled from 66 in 2006 to 126 last year, including eight reported rapes and 55 violent assaults.
While the 1999 Swedish law which criminalised men who buy sex is being used as an example, there has been no investigation of its consequences for women’s safety. Yet police in Sweden recently commented that the law has driven women into the hands of pimps and made it harder for the police to prosecute violent men, including traffickers. The UK proposal is even worse than the Swedish law as women selling sex are not being decriminalised. It bears more resemblance to US prohibition laws which criminalise both sex workers and clients. There is no evidence of less prostitution or better safety or welfare in the US, on the contrary.
Instead of targeting clients indiscriminately, the violence women report should be acted on, regardless of their occupation. An increase in the shamefully low conviction for reported rape has to be a key priority.
No attention is being paid to New Zealand where prostitution was decriminalised five years ago. A recent government review found: no rise in numbers of women working; women able to report violence without fear of arrest; attacks cleared up more quickly; judges ruling that sex workers are entitled to expect protection; drug users viewed as patients not criminals; women finding it easier to leave prostitution as convictions are cleared from their records.
For the past year the government has been pushing a punitive agenda — its earlier attempts to introduce compulsory “rehabilitation” for sex workers was defeated. Once again it disregards public opinion which increasingly favours decriminalisation as crucial to tackling sex workers vulnerability to violence.
The enclosed statement from a woman working as a lapdancer shows that much of the media coverage and information being put out about lapdancing is wildly inaccurate and sensationalised. She describes working collectively with other women with good safety systems and earning more than she could in other jobs. Is this what the government finds objectionable; that women are in charge of their own money and working conditions?
Statement from a woman working as a lapdancer
I’ve worked all around the country. I do three minute dances which cost the guys £10. I pay towards the cost of the venue, security and the DJ; after that, whatever I earn is my own. We work as a collective and prioritise safety. We have a good support network of door and bar staff. Someone always knows where I am. I take a lot of responsibility for the new girls as I’ve been around a long time.
I can earn £250 for four hours. Worse case, I walk out with £50 and that’s still more than I would earn in a day job at £5 an hour. Nine out of 10 women turn to prostitution or lap dancing because there’s not enough money to survive. I work with students, mothers and all kinds of other women. Recently my mum couldn’t afford a pair of school shoes for my brother and sister. When I worked a day job I couldn’t help her, but now I can. If the government is offended by the work we do, then give us the financial means to get out of the industry.
There is no pressure to have sex with men, only opportunities. I could go to a nightclub and have 10 times more of an opportunity to sleep with a man than I do in my workplace. In any case, if I want to have sex with a man and if he wants to pay me, then so what. If I had kids and sleeping with a man for money meant my children could have food in their mouths, I would do it. And tell me one woman that wouldn’t.
I haven’t met any women who were forced to work in clubs. Some women from other countries come here for salvation and help because it is terrible for them back home.
They say we are degrading ourselves. Actually no. The issue is what kind of protection we get from the police and courts. My friend was raped in a supermarket carpark. Some one very close to me was abused as a child. The cases got thrown out of court.
If you bring in more regulations and criminalize the sex industry, you make it harder for women to work. Girls can’t insist on good working conditions or their rights. The industry will go underground and it will be much worse.
DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSIONS
The shockingly short deadline for comments – less than two weeks – makes clear that the government’s mind was made up, and that, as with previous consultations on prostitution, it attaches no importance to people’s views.
 “It is an offence for a person to keep, or to manage, or act or assist in the management of, a brothel to which people resort for practices involving prostitution (whether or not also for other practices).” Max penalty: six months or a fine in a magistrate’s court, seven years in a crown court.
 S53 makes it “an offence for a person (A) intentionally to control another person’s activities relating to prostitution, in any part of the world, where A does so for, or in the expectation of, gain for himself or a third party.”
 Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003, Part I ‘Premises where drugs used unlawfully’ http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk/content.aspx?ActiveTextDocId=820374
 “Attacks on prostitutes soar after vice ‘driven underground’ by law” The Scotsman, 16 April 2008