Action Alert: Oppose increased criminalisation of sex workers in Newham
UPDATE 28 April – VICTORY!!
Proposal for Newham’s Public Space Protection Order has been scrapped! We told the council that it would put sex workers at more risk of violence, criminalise women for trying to make a living, & be a dangerous expansion of police powers and they listened! More to follow!
Newham Council is proposing a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) for Romford Road, which would increase police powers against sex workers and undermine safety.
Anyone attempting to buy or sell sex would face on the spot £100 fines, and if taken to court could be fined up to £1000.
A PSPO would result in a crackdown on sex workers in that area. 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. See further info below.
Please urgently write to the leader of Newham council with your objections.
The Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz OBE
1000 Dockside Road, London E16 2QU
This PSPO must be opposed because:
- It will increase rape and other violence against sex workers and put women at greater risk of attack. Women will have less time to check out clients when they are running from the police. Sex workers face high levels of violence  and criminalisation exacerbates the harms sex workers suffer.  Where arrests of sex workers and clients are high, fewer women are able to report violence. National policing guidance instructs police to prioritise sex workers’ safety over 
- Enforcement restricts healthcare access. Police banning sex workers from areas where services are located combined with the threat of criminalisation deters women from accessing health  Research has found that criminalised sex workers were twice as likely to contract HIV or another sexually transmitted infection, and one-and-a-half times as likely to report having condom-less sex with a client.
- Criminalisation traps women in prostitution. Fines force women back on the streets to get the money to pay the fine.
- Poverty in Newham is increasing. 49% of children in Newham live in poverty which means their mothers are sick with worry about how they will feed them. No wonder that more women, particularly mothers, have gone into sex work in the borough. If the council wants to address the rise in prostitution, then give sex workers priority for social housing, instruct DWP staff not to impose benefit sanctions on vulnerable women, especially mothers, spend the money this PSPO will cost on providing free school meals to all children and provide payments direct to sex workers to help them leave prostitution if they want.
- Who will have the power to enforce this PSPO? The proposal says: “Authorised council officers, police officers, PCSOs and others authorised by the council”. Does “others” mean the employee of a private company like SERCO? Breaching a condition of a PSPO IS A CRIMINAL OFFENCE. So, the PSPO can be imposed at the discretion of an unnamed and unaccountable person and if you breach it you get a criminal record. This is an abuse of “due process and civil liberties”, and a criminal record prevents women from taking up other forms of employment which might allow them to leave sex work. A prostitution no-go zone introduced in Hull was defeated by legal action taken by An Untold Story -Voices. Widespread protests against other PSPOs have shown how they entrap homeless people and others into the criminal justice system.
- Enforcement of prostitution offences has been shown to be systematically sexist, racist and homophobic in that it targets women, sex workers of colour and LBGTQIA+ populations. 
- What protection is there that these powers won’t be abused against sex workers who are a criminalised, stigmatised and therefore vulnerable group of women? Comprehensive research in Newham, Hackney and Tower Hamlets found 42% of street-based workers had experienced violence FROM THE POLICE. One woman described officers forcing her to have sex to avoid arrest: ‘You had to do all three of them [officers in police car] before they let you go without charging you’. The recent Casey report into the Metropolitan police found that more than half of the officers found guilty of sexual misconduct kept their jobs. This is the same police that will enforce this PSPO. When corrupt and criminal officers are being protected by the police force then the police can’t be trusted with even greater powers.
- Justifying the PSPO on the grounds of residents’ complaints misdirects people because the PSPO WON’T WORK. Women are displaced to other areas and rape and other violence increases. Women in the English Collective of Prostitutes work in Newham and some lived on Romford Road so we are familiar with the situation there. Many say that the increase in this area is also likely due to the PSPO introduced in Ilford from 2018 to 2021 which displaced  Crackdowns in the past have pushed women to work in more isolated areas around Wanstead Flats where the number of attacks went up. In other areas, neighbours have got together to find lasting solutions which address the poverty and homelessness which force so many women into prostitution.
Considering this evidence, why is Newham Council pushing for a PSPO? It contradicts any commitments to address violence against women and girls. When asked, the public says that rape and other violence should be the priority for police time and resources, not cracking down on women working to make a living. Or do sex workers’ lives and safety not count?
 45-75% of sex workers experienced workplace violence over a lifetime. A Systemic Review of the Correlates of Violence Against Sex Workers. Deering K, N., Amin, A., Shoveller, J., Nesbitt, A., Garcia-Moreno, C., Duff, P., Argento. E., Shannon, K. (2014). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3987574/
 At least 180 prostitute women have been killed in the UK since 1990. The Independent, 17 December 2017. https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/international-day-to-end-violence-against-sex-workers-right-to-be-free-from-violence-a8115241.html
 “Criminalisation of sex work is linked to ‘extensive harms’ among sex workers”. Associations between sex work laws and sex workers’ health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of quantitative and qualitative studies. Platt L, Grenfell P, Meiksin R, Elmes J, Sherman SG, Sanders T, Mwangi P, Crago AL. (2018). https://www.lshtm.ac.uk/newsevents/news/2018/criminalisation-and-repressive-policing-sex-work-linked-increased-risk
 Sex workers on the street were targeted by police through displacement from work areas (77%), cautions or arrests (70%) or experiencing police violence (42%). “Effect of police enforcement and extreme social inequalities on violence and mental health among women who sell sex: findings from a cohort study in London” Elmes J, Stuart R, Grenfell P, et al https://sti.bmj.com/content/sextrans/98/5/323.full.pdf
 A 2014 survey found that where arrests were high only 5% of sex workers who were victims of a crime reported it. This compared to 46% of victims in areas where police adopted a harm reduction approach. Data provided by National Ugly Mugs (UKNSWP). (2012-2015).
 National Policing Sex Work and Prostitution Guidance https://library.college.police.uk/docs/appref/Sex-Work-and-Prostitution-Guidance-Jan-2019.pdf
 Policing and public health interventions into sex workers’ lives: necropolitical assemblages and alternative visions of social justice, Critical Public Health, DOI: 10.1080/09581596.2022.2096428 Grenfell P, Stuart R, Eastham J, Gallagher A, Elmes J, Platt L, O’Neill M. (2022): https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/09581596.2022.2096428?needAccess=true
 Associations between sex work laws and sex workers’ health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of quantitative and qualitative studies. Platt L, Grenfell P, Meiksin R, Elmes J, Sherman SG, Sanders T, Mwangi P, Crago AL. (2018). https://www.lshtm.ac.uk/newsevents/news/2018/criminalisation-and-repressive-policing-sex-work-linked-increased-risk
 Hull Daily Mail, 13 May 2020 https://www.hulldailymail.co.uk/news/hull-east-yorkshire-news/order-banning-prostitution-hull-removed-4127562
 “Racially minoritized sex workers reported more police encounters, higher odds of recent arrest, police extortion and rape. LGB-identifying sex workers were more vulnerable to rape and emotional violence.”
 Effect of police enforcement and extreme social inequalities on violence and mental health among women who sell sex: findings from a cohort study in London, UK Sexually Transmitted Infections 2022;98:323-331. Elmes J, Stuart R, Grenfell P, et al https://sti.bmj.com/content/sextrans/98/5/323.full.pdf.
 Redbridge Council hoping to extend ban on buying sex | East London and West Essex Guardian Series. https://www.guardian-series.co.uk/news/19314014.redbridge-council-hoping-extend-ban-buying-sex/
 Living and working in areas of street sex work: From conflict to coexistence. Pitcher J, Campbell R, Hubbard P, O’Neill M, Scoular J, The Policy Press, 2006.