SEX workers and campaigners held a candlelit procession through the streets of Soho to protest against “the worsening conditions in the borough and across the world”.
The vigil was to mark International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers and the first anniversary of the raids on the Soho flats which saw 200 police officers in riot-gear raiding 20 flats where sex workers were legally working and forcing them out onto the street – some in their underwear.
The procession started in Soho Square and ended at St Anne’s Church where a documentary on the raids and the fight to reopen the flats was screened.
It featured testimonies from sex workers and their “maids”, the women who sit in the flats with them while they are working.
Niki Adams from the English Collective of Prostitutes said conditions for the workers in the Soho flats had deteriorated over the course of the year.
She told the West End Extra: “The violence is increasing, less sex workers are going to the police to report violence because the police have made it clear that their priority is the prosecution and the criminalisation of sex workers rather than their protection.
“As a result, we have seen a big increase in incidents of rape and other violence and at the same time the only increase there has been is an increase in criminalisation.
“It is an epidemic of violence against sex workers that we are facing and nothing is being done to address that.”
According to the ECP, Soho is one of the safest areas in the country for sex workers because they
tend to operate together in flats rather than on the street and they generally have the support of the local community.
Reverend Simon Buckley, priest-in-charge at St Anne’s, spoke in support of the ECP and sex workers at the event.
He said: “A number of residents came to me and said the problems if you live in Soho are not caused by the girls in the flats.
“The problems are caused by the fully legal, licensed premises where people spill out onto the street at all hours of the night with their broken glass and their noise. They throw up on the pavements and cause hell for everyone who lives here. The girls are not a problem.”
One sex worker speaking at the meeting said: “The customers now, they are horrible. They think we don’t have a right to work there any more. They are more aggressive and say ‘well the police shut you down so you don’t have a right to work here’ and say they don’t have to pay because we can’t call the police.”
The Metropolitan Police Service was unable to comment before the West End Extrawent to press.