You’d have thought people would have finally got used to prostitution by now, what with it being the oldest profession in the world.
But it wasn’t until 1982, when a group of angry “sex workers” occupied the Church of the Holy Cross in Kings Cross, that politicians and the media sat up and listed to what the had to say.
“The church occupation was a turning point,” says Niki Adams from the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP), which organised the protest.
“They decuded to do it because the situation in King’s Cross was in crisis. Prostitutes were being arrested several times a day, sometimes outside our offices.
“The women just marched into the church. They planned to stay for a day, but it turned into 12.
“It caused massive changes. Suddenly prostitution because a political issue.
“We were on the national news every day, and MP’s came to meet the girls – although the vicar wasn’t too impressed.”
The English Collective of Prostitutes – then based behind Camden Town Hall in Tonbridge Street, Kings Cross – had brought a strictly taboo issue into the public arena.
Following the occupation, it published a pamphlet, Hookers in the House of the Lord, giving details account of the protest.
Twenty years on, and the group – now in Kentish Town Road, Kentish Town – is still fighting for working girls rights, and for prostitution to be legalised.
“Our point is that prostitution is a job,” she says. “We don’t promote it. Our motto is ‘For prostitutes, against prostitution’.
“We’re here to offer legal and practical advice to women wanting to set up in business or who have been victims of violence.”
Despite being worth £700 million a year, prostitution is still a high risk industry.
Making like safer for working women is a priority for the group, founded in 1975 by two teenage prostitutes in King’s Cross.
“The current laws make prostitutes far more vulnerable,” says Cari. “Women can be busted for setting up with another woman – meaning they are forced to work alone or on the streets.
“These methods are known to be 10 times more dangerous.”
The case of Paula Fields, a King’s Cross “sex worker” whose mutilated body was found floating down the Regent’s Canal in February 2001, is one of dozens of unsolved prostitute murders.
“we asked the police to declare an amnesty for prostitutes,” says Niki. “just for a limited period, so they could come forward and give evidence. They said no.”
The group’s relationship with the police worsened after King’s Cross officers apparently issued a statement saying that 70 per cent of prostitutes in the area had AIDS, a claim denied by the ECP,
“It was a smear campaign” says Niki. “Prostitutes are very careful and almost always practice safe sex.”
The group has also suffered a strained relationship with residents. Cari says:”There was a point in Kings Cross where they blamed prostitutes for everything – even litter.”
But things have moved on. The English Collective of Prostitutes has made an undeniable impact on the way prostitution is regarded in this country.
Bus stops around London were plastered with posters promoting prostitutes rights during and ECP advertising campaign in 1992, the first of it’s kind.
In 1996, the group – which receives no government funding – helped secure the UK’s first successful prosecution for rape against a prostitute.
After a three-year court battle, the man was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison.
“public opinion has shifted. Prostitutes have found ways to speak out, ” says Cari.
“The hypocrisy is still out there but people are now realising prostitutes like other women, and deserve the same rights.”
The ECP’s latest book, Some Mother’s Daughter – The Hidden Movement of Prostitute Women Against Violence, is available from Crossroads Women’s Centre, (020 7482 2496), 230a Kentish Town Road, and local bookshops.
For more information, go to allwomencount.net on the web and click on the publications link.