Legal Action for Women
Crossroads Women’s Centre PO Box 287 London NW6 5QU
Tel: 020 7482 2496 minicom/voice Fax: 020 7209 4761
Metropolitan Police Commissioner,
New Scotland Yard, 8-10 Broadway,
London, SW1H 0BG 18 September 2012
Dear Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe,
On 5 September, police officers from West End Central Vice Unit and ORB Safer Spaces Neighbourhood Team raided a number of flats in Mayfair. We received calls from women who were distressed and frightened. The officers said that they were looking for women who were being forced to work and for drugs. No drugs, underage or trafficked women or any evidence of force or coercion was found at any of the premises.
Police action during and after these raids includes:
- Threatening women who are maids and or receptionists with prosecution. A number of women were given letters saying that anyone “including persons acting as receptionists, security or any other capacity” who are “acting in contravention of the above legislation [Section 33a Sexual Offences Act — keeping, managing or assisting in the management of a brothel] will be arrested and prosecuted”. This is despite women confirming that the maids are their first line of defence against rape and other violent attacks and crucial to ensure their safety.
- Terrifying one immigrant woman by forcefully questioning her, fingerprinting her against her will and threatening her with removal from the UK. She is an EEA national and has the right to be here but she has now received a letter from UK Border Agency demanding that she attend a police station next week.
- Officers intimidating two immigrant women, aggressively telling them to immediately leave the flat they were in and closing the premises, tearing down notices in the hall way on their way out.
- Threatening other women by telling them that “if we see you again we will arrest you” without giving any indication of what criminal offence they were alleged to have committed.
Far from protecting vulnerable women who may have been trafficked, as officers claimed, the raids targeted immigrant women in a particularly vindictive way. What justification is there for reporting to the immigration authorities a woman who has the right to be in the UK? When we saw her she was panicked and tearful and clearly traumatized by the experience. Why was the flat with two Thai women closed on the spot?
The women working in Mayfair are primarily mothers and/or young immigrant women working to support themselves and their families. Some of the women who called us described how they are saving to study or to train in the caring professions. What possible justification is there for persecuting them in this way?
In treating women as criminals, the raids also undermine women’s safety. Surely after the tragic deaths in Ipswich and Bradford, and considering the high level of violence against women sex workers, no-one needs reminding how deadly serious the situation is. Mayfair is a very safe place to work – women working there report that there have been no violent attacks in over five years. However evidence from around the country shows, that in any six month period, at least a quarter of sex workers working inside, experience violence by clients. If women are forced to work alone without the protection of a maid, or pushed out of premises and onto the street where evidence shows that it is ten times more dangerous to work, will the police be sitting back in satisfaction at a job well done?
What better way to deter sex workers from reporting violence than targeting them for prostitution and/or immigration offences? Hanna Morris was prosecuted when she reported an arson attack – her attackers are still free. More recently, women in Barking were threatened with prosecution when they reported a vicious gang attack. Police inaction left that gang free to rape at least one woman and cause serious injury to others: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/jan/16/change-law-prostitutes-crime-violent.
Women Against Rape, with whom we work closely, has been highlighting for years the appalling conviction rate for reported rape, currently at 6.7%. The public would certainly consider that police officers would be better utilized pursuing rapists and other violent men rather than bullying and threatening sex workers. The police seem determined to sabotage every effort women make to protect themselves from attack. They consistently prioritise the implementation of policies which make sex workers vulnerable, over those which would increase their safety. The same callous disregard for human life demonstrated 23 years ago at Hillsborough, is very much in evidence in the way sex workers are treated.
We would like an immediate explanation of this police action, the action against the EEA citizen to be dropped, and an assurance that women won’t be left to work in isolation and at increased risk of attack by the prosecution of maids who help ensure their safety.
Andrew Boff, Leader, Conservatives, London Authority
Cllr. Frixos Tombolis
Independent Police Complaints Commission
DI James Harman
John McDonnell MP
Len Duvall, Leader, Labour, London Authority
Mark Field MP
Praed Street Project
Theresa May, Home Secretary
Women Against Rape