Newham Council wants to hand out £1,000 fines to anyone caught buying services from sex workers
An East London mum who recently turned to sex work says handing out £1,000 fines to anyone buying services from her will only push her into dangerous situations. The 31-year-old, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, took up sex work a few months ago after losing her job because her young daughter got sick.
She said: “My life unravelled and now everything costs more. I’m not going to sit at home in the dark and in the cold and do nothing so that’s why I’m here. I need my own money.”
Newham Council wants to introduce a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) across six wards – Stratford, Forest Gate South, Green Street East, Green Street West, Little Ilford and Manor Park, in an attempt to clamp down on “kerb crawlers”, who the council says are exploiting vulnerable women.
Those in breach of the PSPO could be ordered to pay a fine ranging from £100 to £1,000. Romford Road, which cuts across all six wards in the plans, has a history of anti-social behaviour and prostitution.
However, the mum argues imposing hefty fines is not what sex workers need: “They [the council] don’t really care if we can get out of this job, they don’t care if they make our lives worse they just don’t want us to be seen – why don’t they ask us what we need to stop working here?
“I want to not be laughed at, I want someone to care what happens to me and my daughter and about how we are treated. If I need to work I want to be able to work here without people spitting on me, without risking my life and without police chasing me to arrest me.”
She added: “I’ve been beaten and robbed, I never went to the police and now I wouldn’t even consider it. They’re not interested, they’re only interested in cleaning up the area and they treat us like rubbish.”
Newham Council told the Local Democracy Reporting Service the proposed PSPO will target those exploiting women and not the women themselves. However, Niki Adams from the English Collective of Prostitutes – a group which campaigns to decriminalise sex work – argues the plans only stigmatise sex workers and puts them more at risk of violence.
Niki said: “It’s scandalous, how much is this costing? Why is Newham Council not focusing on the increase in poverty, homelessness and debt in Newham? There’s so many things they could do instead.
She added: “It’s particularly worrying considering it’s a measure giving significant powers to the police. How it works in practice… we don’t even know if this particular PSPO will be policed by a private company – we have no idea.”
The group has called on the council to consider withdrawing the proposals. The council is reviewing feedback about the PSPO following a public consultation that finished last month. A Newham Council spokesperson said the local authority is developing a “strategy which sensitively acknowledges the complexity of prostitution and the diversity of people involved who are at risk of harm”.
They added: “The council’s public consultation on a proposed PSPO is about targeting those who exploit women, not the women themselves. While the public consultation is now closed, we are continuing our engagement with experts and academics – including groups that represent sex workers and vulnerable women.
“We want to reduce the stigmatisation and exploitation of street and off-street sex workers and are working across our public health, adult social care and community safety teams to ensure that they are safe.
“Community safety partners are already working to support women involved in sex work through a multi-agency approach focused on providing support around their needs through appropriate interventions and referrals.”
The spokesperson added Newham Council is willing to meet with the English Collective of Prostitutes.