There are concerns the new police powers will only drive women into more dangerous sex work
Callum Cuddeford News Reporter
(Image: English Collective of Prostitutes)
Sex workers in East London could be raped and attacked if a crackdown on prostitution by Newham Council goes ahead, a charity has warned. Newham Council is proposing a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) for Romford Road, which stretches from Stratford all the way to Ilford. The English Collective of Prostitutes says the “crackdown” would “undermine safety”.
The order – which would run for three years in Stratford, Forest Gate South, Green Street East, Green Street West, Little Ilford, and Manor Park – gives police extra powers and means anyone trying to buy or sell sex would face on the spot £100 fines, and if taken to court could be fined up to £1000. The orders are commonly used to stop anti-social behaviour like public drinking.
An English Collective of Prostitutes spokesperson said: “It would increase the risk of attack; criminalise women for earning an income to survive at the time of a cost-of-living crisis; and divert time and resources away from addressing rape and other violence, and helping women leave prostitution if and when they want.”
In a letter to Mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz, the group argued “having a criminal record prevents women from taking up other forms of employment which might allow them to leave sex work” and called on local politicians to invest money into its emergency funds to support women out of the industry instead.
It added: “[The money] would be better spent tackling the poverty, homelessness, benefit sanctions, domestic violence and debt which are proven causes of the increase in prostitution.”
The group is worried fines will make existing cost of living pressures even worse, which already underpins the need to do sex-work. They also point to high levels of poverty in Newham where 49% of children are living in poverty. They argue prostitution enforcement is “systematically sexist, racist, and homophobic”.
Newham Council’s proposal says: “Concerns exist around impact of this behaviour on vulnerable persons selling sex and the associated risk of harm… Associated activities of sex work causing anti-social behaviour affecting local residents, including sexual activities taking place in public, noise nuisance, driving and idling vehicles late at night, sex related litter left on streets, residents being solicited and harassed for sex on the street at all times of day and night.”
An investigation by Newham Council found 78.8% of complaints about sex work from the public were for prostitution/soliciting/loitering. This was followed by 15% on sexual acts nuisance, often people committing sexual acts on the street or in cars. Another 4.2% on sex related litter like condoms in the street, and 1.9% on kerb crawling nuisance.
Figures show the total number of sex work related ASB complaints dropped from 139 in 2019 to 44 in 2021, but has risen back to 76 in 2022 to date. Manor Park, Little Ilford, Forest Gate South, and Stratford and New Town were the worst affected areas when looking at ASB complaints and offences reported to the Met Police.
But, the evidence suggests the issue may have worsened in Manor Park this year with 14% of all complaints since 2019 coming from this ward in 2022. Little Ilford also made up 44% of all offences reported to the police in the last four years.
Cllr Carleene Lee-Phakoe, Cabinet Member for Crime and Community Safety previously told MyLondon: “We know this kind of activity can cause alarm and distress – especially when women are harassed on the street – and residents experience the unpleasant impacts of this behaviour.
“The proposed PSPO is one action as part of our wider coordinated, partnership approach to reducing sex work within Newham, where women are safeguarded and supported to move away from sex work and action is taken against perpetrators of street harassment.”