We send our best wishes and support to the three women who tomorrow, 21 January 2019, are bringing a legal case to the High Court challenging street prostitution legislation.
The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) is a network of sex workers working both on the streets and indoors campaigning for decriminalisation and safety. We fight against being treated like criminals and have helped sex workers win against charges of soliciting as well as brothel-keeping and controlling which are most often used against women who are working together for safety. At the beginning of this month we succeeded in getting a prosecution against two women who worked together dropped.
We congratulate the three women who last year won the right not to reveal their criminal convictions for prostitution to prospective employers, and we send our best wishes for the appeal tomorrow which will extend their case to demand that these convictions are expunged. We are delighted that the case also demands that loitering and soliciting is decriminalised following the recommendation of the Home Affairs Committee report and CEDAW.
As one of the women in our group commented:
I want this case to succeed so I am not branded for life by my criminal record. The “Prostitute Caution” I got when I was 20 still stalks me many years later. I haven’t been able to apply to work as a carer at our local community centre, a job I am well qualified to do, because my neighbours would find out I have a record for prostitution. I had to disclose my caution when I applied for housing, insurance and even when I travelled abroad. I want this case to succeed so that no other woman who follows in my footsteps gets convicted for soliciting.
This case is especially important at a time when prostitution is increasing due to the austerity cuts which have targeted women and single mums in particular. A 60% increase in street prostitution recorded in Doncaster is primarily attributed to destitution caused by benefit sanctions. Most sex workers are mothers working to support families. Yet thousands of women nationally are being convicted and cautioned for prostitution related offences. Our latest bulletin shows that in one area since 2012, 270 cautions have been issued to street workers.
Alongside soliciting, we call for brothel-keeping to be decriminalised. As shown by a legal case last week these charges are primarily being used to prosecute sex workers working together collectively for safety. The Home Affairs Committee included this in their recommendations calling for brothel-keeping provisions to be changed to “allow sex workers to share premises”.
The government claims to want to help women exit prostitution and reduce harm. But its own research published last November found that financial need and criminalisation create the “perfect cocktail of conditions” for undermining sex workers’ safety.
We hope that as a result of this case and the growing sex worker led movement for decriminalisation, the government heeds the call to expunge criminal records, end austerity cuts and provide benefits, housing and other resources so that any of us can leave prostitution if and when we want.
Decriminalisation was introduced in New Zealand in 2003 with verifiable success. Over 90% of sex workers said they had additional employment, legal, health and safety rights. The government found that “a provision to allow people to apply for historical convictions to be removed from their record had made it easier for sex workers to leave prostitution.”
Decriminalisation is supported in the UK by Amnesty International, the Royal College of Nursing and Women Against Rape and internationally by the World Health Organization, the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women and UNAIDS among others.
Members of ECP will be attending court in support of the three complainants.