On 18 December, three police officers from Charing Cross Clubs and Vice Unit visited a flat in Romilly Street, Soho, London and issued a written notice against Ms Tracey Ramsey* who works as a receptionist there, that they intend charging her with “controlling prostitution for gain”. Soho has been one of the safest places for women in the sex industry to work. As a receptionist, Ms Ramsey is women’s first line of defence against violent attacks and exploitation. If the police are allowed to proceed against Ms Ramsey, other receptionists will be driven away and women will be forced to work alone. Why are police targeting safe premises?
Details of the raid
The police are familiar with this and other flats in Soho. The police notice claimed that their visit was “to check the welfare of the occupants and to ensure that there are no juveniles or trafficked victims working at the location”. It threatened charges such as: “to keep or to manage, or to act or assist in the management of a brothel”; “controlling prostitution for gain” as well as “causing or inciting child prostitution”. No underage or trafficked women or any evidence of force or coercion was found at the premises, and none had been found during the weekly visits by the police during the whole month of September. This is an abuse of process.
Ms Ramsey is a mother and grandmother and has been in Soho for 30 years.
She is a registered carer for her father who has Alzheirmer’s and suffered a stroke. Her situation is similar to that of many other women who have contacted us recently after being charged with “brothel-keeping” or “controlling”. Many are mothers supporting children; at least three have children with disabilities. One woman started working after the Inland Revenue sent her a £6,000 bill for overpayments of child tax credit. Others are struggling to keep bailiffs at bay following threats of repossession on their home or suffer from ill heath.
New legislation to be announced on 19 January
These raids and prosecutions are aimed at preparing the ground for new legislation being announced on 19 January which would force women into “rehabilitation”, make it easier for the police to close brothels and arrest kerb-crawlers, and make an offence of “paying for sex with a person who is controlled for another person’s gain”. Such measures would force prostitution further urderground, adding to sex workers’ vulnerability and stigma.
What is a brothel?
The word brothel conjures up images of big exploitative establishments.Yet by law two prostitute women sharing premises to work constitute a brothel, even if no force and coercion are involved. Many women prefer to work in such brothels because they offer greater safety, companionship and lower running expenses. Working indoors is 10 times safer than working on the street. Why should women not be allowed to work in this way?
Impact of the raids
Receptionists such as Ms Ramsey face criminalization and imprisonment for up to seven years (increased from six months by New Labour). Immigrant women face deportation; clients face “a hefty fine and a criminal record”.
Police profit directly from raids
Since the Proceeds of Crime Act, raids have become profitable for the police. They receive 25% of any assets confiscated both at the time and from subsequent prosecutions. The Crown Prosecution Service keeps another 25% and the rest goes to the Inland Revenue, ie the government. It is common for the police to seize any money found on the premises. Even if no one is charged, the money is rarely returned as police take advantage of sex workers’ reluctance to go public. Women who have worked for years to put money aside lose not only their livelihood but their home, car, life savings, jewellery, etc. This exploitation by agents of the State is the worst form of theft and pimping. We believe it is a main reason why raids are now high up on the police and government agenda.
Government statistics on trafficking are false
The figures the government is using to justify raids are based on blatantly discredited research which claims that 80% of women working in the sex industry in the UK have been trafficked. Convictions for trafficking are distorted because the UK definition of trafficking for prostitution, unlike trafficking for any other industry, does not mention force or coercion. This enables every woman with a foreign accent to be labelled a victim of trafficking!
Measures that would help women get out of prostitution
The government has done little to address the homelessness, poverty, debt and domestic violence, which were established as key factors driving women into the sex industry. With women’s hourly wages ranging from £5.73 to £11.67, enforcing pay equity would also reduce the number of women working in prostitution. In New Zealand where decriminalisation became law five years ago, sex workers’ criminal records were expunged making it easier for women to leave prostitution if they want to. Sex workers recount being more able to report violence and insist on their rights.
Rape and violence against sex workers dismissed
The conviction rate for reported rape is a shameful 6%. Sex workers who have been attacked face particular discrimination when seeking justice. Seven women came to the ECP in a two month period reporting rape and other attacks which the police had refused to investigate. One woman was told to gather the evidence herself; another was forced out of her flat by a raid and was violently attacked on the street.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Write protesting that these raids will isolate sex workers from essential support and force women out of the safety of premises onto the streets. Demand an end to the prosecution of women working in the sex industry, including for brothel-keeping and “controlling” if no force or coercion is involved. Please send your complaint to:
Jacqui Smith, Home Secretary,
Fax: 020 7035 3262
Head of Clubs and Vice
Charing Cross Police Station,
London, WC2N 4JP
Sir Paul Stephenson
Metropolitan Police Commissioner,
New Scotland Yard, 8-10 Broadway,
London, SW1H 0BG