15 July 1994
STOP THE SERIAL KILLER/S – STOP POLICE SWEEPS
At least six women have been murdered this year in the Midlands and North of England, the last two in July — four have been labeled as prostitutes by the police. The police have responded not with protection of women, but with street sweeps -stepping up the arrest of working women and clients. They are using prostitution as an excuse to deny women the protection we are all entitled to by law.
These serial murders are quickly becoming another Ripper case. In order to save the lives of many women, we demand:
an end to street sweeps against prostitute women and clients;
a temporary amnesty from arrest for prostitute women and clients so that anyone can come forward to give information without fear of criminalization or harassment;
a change in police priorities: money and resources which are being used to arrest prostitute women and clients for consenting sex must be turned over to catching violent men -a recent month-long purge of women and clients in Wolverhampton consumed 21,000 police hours. Women’s safety must come first;
an end to eviction orders and criminal charges aimed at forcing prostitute women out of premises which are safer to work from;
the abolition of the prostitution laws which signal to men that sex workers are criminals and that violence against those of us in the sex industry will be dealt with leniently or not at all.
We are urging MPs, Police Committees, Community Affairs Committees in areas where the murders have taken place, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution, and Church leaders to support our call for action which targets the murderer/s, not prostitute women and clients.
The police have said they are anxious not to repeat the mistakes of the Yorkshire Ripper case. But local people have reported a lack of co-ordination between different police forces which are asking the same questions. The police are also telling residents to take car number plates so they can go to men’s homes and question them. 250,000 people were questioned during the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper but he was not arrested for years. These tragic murders are not to become the occasion for the police to further infringe civil rights and to collect information for unconnected purposes. This is particularly worrying given the West Midlands Police involvement in a number of “miscarriages of justice”.
The police say they haven’t the personnel to protect women from attack and have advised them to get off the street. Yet the police have no trouble finding the time and resources to patrol the streets and arrest women and men for soliciting. Like homeless people who are forced to beg, women who work on the street may have no other means of making a living — the need to put food on the table is more urgent than the fear of death.
Government figures show that the number of people living below the poverty line has more than doubled since 1979 and that there are more than 76,000 teenagers in Britain without any income.  A Birmingham Councillor is quoted as saying that half the people in the Birmingham area live on or below Income Support level.  Black women and women with disabilities who have the lowest wages and the least employment opportunities, are often forced to work as prostitutes — one of the murdered women was Black, another was profoundly deaf.
Street sweeps discourage prostitute women, clients and other people who live or work in the area, and who are most likely to have information about the murders, from coming forward. Only since a confidential phone line has been set up have clients started to call. But leads cannot always be pursued effectively if people can’t identify themselves.
Street sweeps also make it more dangerous for women to work by:
driving women into unfamiliar neighbourhoods where they are less able to protect themselves and each other. (One of the murdered women had recently been driven out of Wolverhampton to Stoke-on-Trent.)
stepping up arrests — every conviction results in women being forced to work harder to earn the money to pay the fines.
reducing the number of clients so women have less choice about turning down men they suspect may be violent.
The police did not take the Ripper murders seriously until a “respectable” woman was killed. The media followed their line, labelling the murdered women as prostitutes, thus giving the impression that non-prostitute women were safe. The Yorkshire Ripper killed 13 women and attacked seven others, many of whom were not prostitutes, as a result. The police and the media seem to be following the same policy again. When will they learn that when prostitute women aren’t safe, no woman is safe?
Please call for further information.
1. The Independent 1 June 1994
2. Birmingham Voice 17 September 1992, p5
Member Organisation of the INTERNATIONAL WAGES FOR HOUSEWORK CAMPAIGN