Pentameter Two, the new initiative against traffickers, far from protecting victims of trafficking is likely to make immigrant sex workers more vulnerable to violence and exploitation. Evidence from how anti-trafficking legislation has been implemented until now show that the police, courts and government are using this legislation primarily as an excuse to step up deportations of immigrant sex workers and prevent people crossing international borders.
Under the first Operation Pentameter, police and immigration raids targeted premises where immigrant sex workers in particular were working. Many women were thrown out of their flats (where it is 10 times safer to work) onto the streets. Figures quoted in the media on the numbers of “victims of trafficking” failed to distinguish between women forced into prostitution and immigrant women working for themselves – ignoring the voices of sex workers themselves and allowing all immigrant sex workers to be targetted.
Because trafficking legislation doesn’t require force or coercion to be proved, some people were convicted of trafficking for working collectively with others. One Brazilian woman in our network was jailed for three years and separated from her six year old child – she managed a flat and helped some girlfriends from Brazil to come to the UK. She is available for interview
Where women are genuinely trafficked they are routinely denied protection. No police investigation is done into their allegations of rape and other violence and some women found themselves detained pending deportation. One 17 year old who was brought to our Centre having escaped her captors, was charged with deception for travelling on false documents and imprisoned. Only a campaign got her released.
Many women won’t go to the Home Office funded Poppy Project. Housing and other resources which allow women to stay in the UK only whilst pursuing a prosecution against their attackers are inadequate. Women will not be able to come forward if they know that they will be deported when the case finishes. If women’s safety and welfare were really the priority why shouldn’t a woman who has escaped from a situation where she faced threats, violence and/or rape and fears reprisals have the right to stay in the UK?
Victims of trafficking need what all victims of violence need, protection of the police and courts, housing, healthcare, welfare benefits and to see their assailants brought to justice. Yet prostitute women have always said that fear of arrest — and if we are immigrant, fear of deportation — is the biggest deterrent to reporting violence. Increasing support for the decriminalisation of sex work reflects concern at how criminalisation prevents women reporting attacks and exploitation.
English Collective of Prostitutes, Crossroads Women’s Centre, 230a Kentish Town Rd, London NW5 2AB ph:020 7482 2496