“The English Collective of Prostitutes is calling for the removal of laws relating to consensual adult sexual behaviour, arguing that the legislation forces sex workers to operate alone, leaving them vulnerable to crime and reluctant to report violence to the police because they fear arrest.”
“I’ve faced a lot of abusive clients, but the most frightening thing was knowing that I couldn’t call the police. A friend of mine, who reported a gang that was threatening her, was told by the desk sergeant: “Are you telling me you are a prostitute? Because, if so, I’ll arrest you. We’re labelled criminals for doing our best to survive even though laws are against us. This cannot continue.”
“Even though our job is legal, the law makes it illegal for us to work together with a friend. We’re forced to choose between possible arrest and keeping ourselves safe, or avoiding a criminal record and putting ourselves in danger. No woman should have to make that choice.”
“There are plenty of myths around sex work and the impact that decriminalisation could have. That’s why we made sure the ‘Make All Women Safe’ campaign was so informative. People say: ‘Well, what about trafficking?’ There’s a law against that. ‘What about rape?’ There’s a law against that too. When New Zealand decriminalised sex work it didn’t also decriminalise rape and trafficking. If anything, legislation is stacked against sex workers. Reporting a crime requires a calculation. Is it worth revealing where we work, or will police use that to raid us, arrest us, close us down? It’s even worse for migrant women – there’s an obvious fear that they’ll be threatened with deportation.”
“Our campaign is not asking what people think of sex work. We don’t want to discuss whether sex work is uniquely degrading or empowering, or whether it is work or victimisation – apply the same question to call centre workers and you’ll realise how absurd it is. We want to discuss the reality of over 70,000 women who will today or tomorrow or sometime this week exchange sex for money. The laws are forcing us to do this in ways that are dangerous – they must be abolished.”
“I’ve seen for myself the dangers of ignoring the voices of women most affected by sex work legislation and policy – the workers themselves. The latest effort to break down the barriers to decriminalisation may finally succeed by way of collaboration between multiple organisations, each committed to placing the lived experience of sex workers at the foundation of their cause. Trade unions, prostitutes, strippers, exploited workers, and feminists all working together might just tip the balance and make rights for sex workers, and all oppressed people, a reality.”
Sex workers are desperate for change. Over 180 women have been killed since 1990. Thousands each year are raided, arrested and prosecuted for working together with a friend. We are negotiating for our safety with one hand tied behind our back because the law places us in danger. One woman in our group said recently that every time she answers the door to a client, “I should not have to wonder whether this is going to be the last person I ever speak to.”
“Treating sex workers like criminals sends out a signal that women’s lives are less valuable and makes it harder for them to report rape and other violence to the police and get the protection that others are entitled to.”
“Most of us are here as mothers, single mothers supporting families. This is not only in this country but all over the world. We have very few options as mothers how to survive poverty. Because the work we do as mothers is not recognised and paid, we absolutely support the demand for a living wage for mothers and carers.”
“The issues faced by sex workers cut across many of key human rights issues, which is why so many international human rights organisations have taken a bold, evidence-based position in support of sex worker rights. It is not merely that the state doesn’t uphold and protect the rights of sex workers, it actively undermines them at every turn.”
“We’ve shut down Soho in a clear and defiant move to say we will not rest until we have full decriminalisation of sex work. The struggle for decriminalisation is linked to the oppression of all women.”
“Sex workers have had a struggle to be listened to, For too long, policy and law on prostitution has been dealt with without sex workers. But we have a crisis – on one hand, the number of women going into prostitution is increasing and on the other hand, there is an increase in violence.”
“For the police to respond by arresting women just makes it more difficult and dangerous for women. It is likely to increase attacks because women will end up taking risks and going with clients they would have previously avoided and working in isolated areas and not feeling able to come forward and report violent men.”
“Some of the largest UK unions refuse outright to recognise sex workers as workers and promote the criminalisation of “those who purchase sex acts” despite compelling evidence that this has increased violence against sex workers. In our 1980 letter, we suggested that trade unions have forgotten their roots because “the people who formed trade unions were all criminals before the law.”
Other recent ECP press
“There had been an increase in prostitution in the UK as a result of rising poverty and cuts to single-parent benefits. The devastating impact of benefit cuts and sanctions on women’s incomes predated universal credit, which for many claimants, especially single parents, had the effect of making an already precarious financial situation worse.”
“Women weigh up the illegality, stigma and discrimination of sex work against the higher pay and greater flexibility, At a time of brutal cuts and rising poverty when over four million children are living in poverty, our so-called choices increasingly come down to a decision between prostitution and destitution.”
“One woman who had two children – one with a disability – called saying she had calculated her income would drop by a third when universal credit came to her area. She was totally distressed on the phone. She was crying. It was absolutely dreadful.”
“In some cities around the UK, reported rises in prostitution have been directly attributed to benefit sanctions. In 2014, Doncaster reported a 60 per cent increase in prostitution. The next year, charity workers described some women being on the streets “to get £5 for gas or electricity, because they’d been sanctioned”.
“The similarities between sex work and other women’s work were many. The biggest difference was that sex work was the only job on the list which is criminalised. Although it’s legal to exchange sex for money, soliciting on the street is illegal and working together in premises puts women at risk of prosecution for brothel keeping. The street sex worker was the only woman to report physical violence from a client but felt she couldn’t rely on the police for protection. The constant threat of arrest made the police at times the principal harassers.”
“Working in crummy factories for disgusting pay was the most degrading and exploitative work I ever did in my life … All I can think of is drudgery. Yet as I say, it’s expected of working-class women that they deny themselves everything … Why should I have to put up with a middle class feminist asking me why I didn’t ‘do anything – scrub toilets, even?’ than become a stripper?”
“It’s not surprising that sex work is seen by so many as a threat. Sex workers demand payment for services that under patriarchy women are expected to perform freely and with a smile – in doing so they highlight and challenge the existing, capitalist order”.
“The strike is to protest criminalisation, police abuse and the poverty that is pushing more women, particularly mothers, into sex work to survive. Because of the stigma and discrimination associated with sex work we can’t speak publicly about our fight against police raids and closures which have put our lives and livelihoods at risk”.
“They were led by English Collectives of Prostitutes, who were protesting against what they claim are the sexist, racist and criminal laws that jeopardise the lives of sex workers. The group say current laws drive prostitutes underground, putting them at greater risk of physical harm and poor health.”
“In a speech at the trial, the attorney general at the time, Sir Michael Havers, said of the victims: “Some were prostitutes, but perhaps the saddest part of the case is that some were not. The last six attacks were on totally respectable women.” That statement was outrageous enough back then that Nina Lopez of the English Collective of Prostitutes, which organised protests outside the Old Bailey, can still quote it verbatim.”
“When will the Women’s Equality Party drop its elitist “we know best what is good for you” attitude towards other women and support campaigns for a living wage across the board so no one is driven into prostitution by poverty, and for decriminalisation so sex workers have rights like other workers?”
“This isn’t a “split in feminism”. Real feminism starts with women’s needs, campaigns for a living wage so no one is driven into sex work by poverty, and for decriminalisation so women in the sex industry can win employment rights like other workers.”
“If campaigners are really concerned about strippers’ welfare they would turn their energies to listening to strippers – whose experiences and opinions don’t reflect this degrading and disempowered depiction, nor the myth that strip clubs cause sexual harassment.”
“Since the Brexit vote, racist attacks on migrant sex workers have gone up, particularly against those of us who work on the street. We work for a living, like other workers, and our families and sometimes whole communities depend on the money we earn. How can the police then say we are not workers? We ask that trade unions and others concerned with the rights of workers and migrants help us establish that sex work is work so we can organise alongside other workers for protection from exploitation and abuse.”
We are distressed to see “Street Watch” patrols in Ilford Lane which claim to target kerb crawlers as this is likely to push sex workers into more isolated areas where they will be more vulnerable to violence. We have also seen how quickly such actions can turn into vigilantism.