Migrant sex workers are targeted for arrest and deportation by the police. The information here is based on the experience of women in the ECP’s network – both what women have suffered and the ways we have found to defend ourselves.
It relates primarily to EU migrants or others with immigration status in the UK. If you don’t have status you have the right to apply to stay in the UK under the Refugee Convention or on human rights grounds. For help, see Legal Action for Women’s self-help guide: legalactionforwomen.net.
This is supplementary info to our KNOW YOUR RIGHTS sheet (available here) which has information about sex workers’ rights against stop and search, raids, arrests, charges of soliciting & brothel-keeping, “prostitute cautions”, civil orders, police seizing your money, as well as help if you are threatened or attacked.
DOWNLOAD: Sex Workers’ Rights Against Deportation
STOP AND INTERROGATION BY IMMIGRATION OFFICERS:
You have the right to not answer questions from immigration officials or show them your ID if they stop you on the street or come to your place of work. You can leave/walk away. You have the right to demand they show their ID and explain why they are stopping you. They have no right to stop you based just on how you look.
Anti-trafficking and modern slavery laws are being used to justify raids on sex workers‘ premises especially where migrant women are working. Don’t let the police in without a warrant. (Police don’t need a warrant if they hear cries for help or are chasing someone; but if they don’t have one, demand to know why they broke in). Watch them search; don’t let them take photographs or film footage of you – check if they have a body cam. Insist on a receipt for anything they take including money, as cash and other items can disappear during raids. You have the right to record or film them. But police may take your phone so, if possible, send photos/footage to a friend and make a note of key information and the name and number of all the officers. Don’t sign anything you don’t understand.
You have the right to a lawyer and can ask for someone to be told where you are. You don’t have to say anything especially if you don’t understand what you are being accused of.
Police have been stopping women on the streets, taking their passports or ID and refusing to return them unless women produce a ticket back to their home country. You have a right to refuse to give them these documents. Some police act illegally or abuse their powers for example, by demanding free sex, stealing money or being racist and/or violent. You don’t have to put up with this and we can help you fight it.
REMOVAL (DEPORTATION) NOTICES:
Police or immigration have been known to say that prostitution is not a “legitimate job” and you have no right to be here. But you can challenge this with legal precedents we have found which say that sex workers working for themselves are “self-employed workers”; that prostitution (which in itself isn’t illegal in the UK) is an “economic activity” and therefore sex workers are entitled to enter and reside in the UK.
EXCLUDING OR REMOVING WOMEN:
Police have been arresting migrant sex workers over and again, labelling them “persistent offenders”, claiming that their presence in the UK is “not conducive to the public good” and using this to deport them. This makes it especially important to fight every charge and don’t plead guilty to anything you didn’t do. If you are threatened with removal you have the right to appeal and can make the case that you are not a threat to “public order” and that removal would violate your human rights, in particular your right to a private and family life. If you are excluded, that is, prevented from entering the UK you still have the right to appeal but have to do it from your home country.
DEPORTATION FOLLOWING PRISON:
If your conviction resulted in a prison sentence of over 12 months, the Home Office has greater powers to remove you. You have the right to appeal on human rights grounds, in particular your right to a private and family life.
APPLYING FOR SETTLED STATUS:
If you are an EU national or non-EU family member of an EU national, you have the right to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme in order to stay in the UK. You have the right to apply for a National Insurance number (NI no.) if you are in the UK and plan to work, apply for a student loan or claim benefits. Having a NI no. can be a protection against attempts to deport you. You have to declare criminal convictions (but not spent offences, cautions or civil orders) when applying and this may be used to refuse you regardless of how long you have lived in the UK. This is especially true if you were imprisoned for more than 12 months or if in the last three years, you got three or more convictions.
Most people think of trafficking as bringing someone here by force and coercing them to work. In fact, anyone who helps a sex worker travel who is then “exploited” can be prosecuted for trafficking as prostitution is treated differently from other work — as fundamentally exploitative. Sex workers have fought these charges and helped others escape from violence, but the laws make this hard.
The ECP is a network of sex workers, mostly women, working both on the streets and indoors. We campaign for decriminalisation and safety, and work with sex workers who are defending themselves against criminal charges. We also fight for resources so that any of us can leave prostitution if and when we want.
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