Sex workers are campaigning for the total decriminalisation of the industry, which they say would make prostitutes safer
Hundreds of prostitutes and their supporters marched through London last night on strike – protesting against unfair and unsafe working conditions.
Huge crowds chanted ‘sex work is work’ and ‘no bad whores, just bad laws’ through the streets of Soho on Friday evening, undeterred by the rain.
Traffic came to a standstill, with many drivers forced to turn back as the crowd marched defiantly with banners.
A police car arrived within minutes but just followed the march slowly, keeping an appropriate distance from the lingerie-clad women.
Sex workers are campaigning for the total decriminalisation of the industry, which they say would make prostitutes safer and allow them access to labour laws.
Last night they chanted ‘what do we want? Decrim! When do we want it? Now!’ and ‘s.e.x should be s.a.f.e’.
Although prostitution is legal in the UK, other related activities such as soliciting in a public place, owning or managing a brothel, pimping and pandering are criminalised.
Selling sex in private in not illegal, nor is working as a prostitute in a brothel as long as the worker is not involved in management – meaning the person running the brothel can be charged with a criminal offence but the prostitute cannot.
However, because of the criminalised nature of the industry, sex workers working together from the same flat or house for safety live in “constant fear” of being arrested for brothel-keeping.
The protest, which took place on International Women’s Day , was about including “all women” in the feminist movement, with many shouting “drunk, alone, I want to get home”.
A spokeswoman for the English Collective of Prostitutes, a group that provides support for sex workers and was present at the march, said the strike was to “protest criminalisation, police abuse and the poverty that is pushing more women, particularly mothers, into sex work to survive”.
She said: “Because of the stigma and discrimination associated with sex work we can’t speak publicly about our fight against police raids and closures which have put our lives and livelihoods at risk.”
Three supporters of sex workers’ rights, who did not wish to be named, said they were “fighting for vulnerable women” who are “mistreated by police and are powerless to do anything about it”.
One said: “Sex workers need protection, not locking up – they are vulnerable people already and giving them a criminal record makes them even more vulnerable.
“We are here for the decriminalisation of sex workers – sex work is real work. We are here for the carers in our society that do not have enough money to survive – the world would stop working without them.”
Another said: “We need to live in a society that protects all women, all women should be treated equally, as human beings, and protected by the law.
“These are mothers, these are daughters, they deserve to work in a safe environment.”
The strike began at Leicester Square with sex workers giving passionate speeches about the dangers they face.
One said: “The people I work with are mums – what I say is take away our poverty, not our income.”
One, named Cassandra, said: “Not only do sex workers have to fight for our rights, but we have to fight for our lives.
“We refuse to sit back and watch passively as the decriminalisation of sex work becomes a hot topic for politicians to support.”
The huge group then marched through Soho, holding placards reading ‘disappointing my dad, not yours’ and ‘some of my best friends are sex workers so stop putting them in danger!’.
The march ended at Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain by Piccadilly Circus tube station where one woman spoke passionately through a microphone.
She said: “We have shut down Soho in a clear and defiant move to say we do not rest until we have the full descriminalisation of sex work.
“The struggle of the decriminalisation is linked to the oppression of all women – all women need equal rights.
“Until sex workers get free, none of us can get free and that is why we have been on the streets tonight.
“We are building a feminist movement in the United Kingdom that has trans women at the centre of it.
“We are building a feminist movement that has mothers and carers at the centre of it.
“We are building a feminist movement that is led by sex workers.”