PUBLIC PRESSURE WINS GOVERNMENT CLIMB DOWN ON CRIMINALISING CLIENTS – BUT WHAT ABOUT SEX WORKERS? WHY ARE WE BEING ARRESTED?
The government has been forced to amend Clause 13 of the Bill which made it a criminal offence for a man to have sex with a person “controlled for gain” whether he knew it or not. “Controlled for gain” is being replaced with “force, deception or threats”. The difference between consensual situations where sex workers are working voluntarily, and situations where women are being coerced and suffer violence, is finally being acknowledged.
This climb down comes after months of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, Minister for Women Harriett Harman and other government feminists and advisers claiming that all prostitution is rape, and that men must be made to “think twice” before paying for sexual services.
While using trafficking as an excuse to criminalise clients, they have shown no concern for the safety of sex workers.
WHAT ABOUT WOMEN’S SAFETY?
The government is using this amendment to guillotine discussion on women’s safety and the need to decriminalise prostitution so that sex workers can insist on their right to protection from violence and exploitation.
Nothing has been said about the continuing raids, prosecutions and convictions against women who are working collectively and independently, and usually discreetly, without exerting any force or coercion on anyone. It is not illegal to exchange sexual services for money. So why are sex workers being prosecuted? What is their crime?
It is well know that working from premises in 10 times safer than working on the street,and that working collectively is safer than working on your own. Why are women being prevented from working more safely?
The offences of “controlling prostitution for gain” and “keeping a brothel used for prostitution” (2003 Sexual Offences Act) do not require evidence of force and coercion. Theycriminalise women working together. And prosecutions are rising yearly – from 3 in 2004, to 11 in 2005, to 39 in 2006, to 41 in 2007 (Answers to Lord Faulkner, Hansard 15 January 2009.)
Women whose primary role is to ensure other women’s safety continue to be prosecuted and convicted for brothel keeping despite having no control over the sex workers they work with. And despite precedent cases such as Elliott & Kuhn v DPP and Dublidis v DPP in which Justice Taylor ruled that, “some evidence of control or a say in the running of premises is essential before a court can find that a person can be found to be ‘assisting in the management’.
Women end up institutionalised in prostitution by criminal records as they cannot get other jobs, even when they are qualified for them.
After the tragic murders of five young women in Ipswich, the English Collective of Prostitutes brought together the Safety First Coalition. We have been campaigning, holding public meetings in Parliament, arranging for MPs and Peers to visit Soho and meet some of the women this Bill would be criminalising. The strength of feeling against prostitution being driven further underground has been enormous and enormously varied.
Safety First includes anti-poverty campaigners, church people & residents from Ipswich & elsewhere, the Royal College of Nursing, the National Association of Probation Officers, Women Against Rape, members of the medical & legal professions, prison reformers, sex worker & drugs rehabilitation projects. All agree that rape and other violent crime must be prioritised, and prostitution decriminalised.
Last week at his annual congress, the Royal College of Nursing voted to: “make recommendations to the UK government to allow up to four sex workers to work together legally before requiring a license”. The vote was an overwhelming 93%. Why? Because nurses understand that criminalisation makes it harder for sex workers to access health and other services, and that women worried about being arrested are less likely to come forward to get help, report violence, etc.
THE HOUSE OF ILL REPUTE IS CORRUPTING THE POLICE
The police have a VESTED INTEREST in raiding premises for prostitution. Since the Proceeds of Crime Act, raids and prosecutions of women working in prostitution have become profitable. The police keep 25% of any assets confiscated both at the time and from subsequent prosecutions; the Crown Prosecution Service keeps another 25%; and the Inland Revenue the rest.
This corruption of law and order has serious implications for all policing – it determines priorities. Not the seriousness of the offence and the need to protect the public, but whether or not the police are going to benefit financially. Prostitution raids are profitable. They make good money and good statistics, and the effort is minimal.
The laws on prostitution and on proceeds of crime are corrupting law enforcement. It is common for police to seize any money found on premises they raid. 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 is the worst form of pimping.
The Policing and Crime Bill will make it legal for the police to sell the property they have raided and closed even before anyone has been convicted for a crime.
STOP CRIMINALISING MOTHERS
70% of prostitute women are mothers, mostly single mothers. What is their crime? Struggling to support themselves and their families. Government figures found that 74% of off-street sex workers “cited the need to pay household expenses and support their children.
These measures are being brought in at the same time as the Welfare Reform Bill. The government is legislating for destitution and therefore for an increase in prostitution.
If the Welfare Reform Bill goes through, mothers, especially single mothers, will lose Income Support and be forced to ‘progress towards work’ or take a job. So will carers of people with disabilities, mostly women, women over 60, and even traumatised victims of domestic violence. Those who can’t find jobs will have to ‘work for their benefits’ i.e. for £1.73 an hour! Anyone refusing to comply with the new rules or unable to cope will face economic sanctions.
Given the greatest economic crisis most of us have ever seen, where are all these women to find jobs? As more women end up in prostitution as a result of the recession and the proposed welfare cuts, more will be criminalised and sent to prison under this Bill. Children will be separated from their mothers.
WHY ISN’T NEW ZEALAND BEING FOLLOWED?
New Zealand successfully decriminalised all prostitution, both indoors and on the street, six years ago. There has been no increase in prostitution and women find it safer. The government has refused to look at New Zealand.
Further information and full briefing of the Bill: https://prostitutescollective.net/2009/05/19/briefing-on-the-policing-and-crime-bill-2009-2/