Today charges were withdrawn against two women (named here as Ms O and Ms R) who were facing conviction for “a tenant permitting premises to be used as a brothel” (S35 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956).
Laura Watson, English Collective of Prostitutes, which has supported the women throughout and who attended court today commented:
“These charges should never have been brought. Ms O and Ms R were working in a flat together for safety and supporting their families. Both women are migrant and we believe that racism was involved in why they were targeted. The police and CPS seemed to have thought that it would be harder for women, worried about their immigration status, to defend themselves against these unjust charges. But because of their courage and with the support of the ECP and the thousands of people who wrote to protest, they have been able to leave court without a conviction.”
Ms O and Ms R were in tears on hearing the news. They hugged their supporters and thanked their lawyer Nigel Richardson from Hodge, Jones and Allen.
Ms O commented:
“They said I was a criminal but I am a good mother working to make sure my child has a better life. I worked with my friend because it’s safer. Thank goodness that I was sent angels like the ECP girls to help me. I would never have been able to fight this on my own.”
Niki Adams from Legal Action for Women who was also present in court commented:
“This case could have set a dangerous precedent in that any sex worker could easily be convicted of permitting her co-worker to work. If this charge was applied to other workers the absurdity is clear — would a hairdresser who rents a chair in a salon be permitting her co-worker to work? We are also disgusted that the CPS tried to extort money from women offering them a caution on the condition that they “write over the money seized on their arrest.” Taking money from sex workers under duress is tantamount to pimping.”
But questions should be answered. Why did it take hundreds of hours of work by a grassroots women’s organisation before there was acknowledgement that prosecuting women for working together undermines safety? Who will pay compensation to the women for the trauma and terror they suffered, and will they get an apology? Who will recompense their supporters for this important work to ensure that justice is done?
This case highlights once again the injustice of the prostitution laws and strengthens calls for decriminalisation. The prestigious parliamentary Home Affairs Committee report on prostitution (2016) recommended that sex workers working on the street and in premises should be decriminalised. Since that time austerity cuts have pushed even more women, particularly single mothers, into prostitution.
The government said it was waiting for the outcome of its own research before acting. That research was published last November and confirmed that financial need and criminalisation create the “perfect cocktail of conditions” for undermining sex workers’ safety. The government must urgently introduce legislation to decriminalise sex work to promote safety.
The ECP is a self-help organisation of sex workers, working both on the street and in premises, with a national network throughout the UK. Since 1975, we have campaigned for the decriminalisation of prostitution, for sex workers’ rights and safety, and for resources to enable people to get out of prostitution if they want to.