West End Extra: Colourful protest after sex workers are evicted from flats
by WILLIAM McLENNAN
SEX workers and Soho residents stood shoulder to shoulder this week in protest over evictions which they say will “put women in danger”.
A small crowd wearing colourful masks and waving pink banners descended on the headquarters of Soho Estates on Wednesday morning following the eviction of women from several flats in Romilly Street on Tuesday night.
Niki Adams from the English Collection of Prostitutes (ECP) told the crowd in Greek Street: “We represent Soho. This is what Soho looks like. It’s a diverse community and we want to keep it that way.”
Soho Estates, which was set up by the late porn baron and property magnate Paul Raymond, own the building and were forced to evict the women after receiving warnings from police saying they were “using these premises as a brothel”.
But the ECP, who helped organise the protest, said the flats were run legally and police had not provided any evidence they were brothels. It is not illegal to sell sex and premises are only considered a brothel when “more than one woman offers sexual intercourse”. Protesters were joined by members of the Soho Society and actor Rupert Everett who is in the process of making a documentary about sex workers.
Law firm Hodge Jones and Allen are now investigating the police action on behalf of the ECP to determine if the evictions were unlawful.
Ms Adams said: “We’re outside Soho Estates because they’re the ones behind this eviction. We say to them ‘stand up to the police’. If the police threaten you with prosecution, stand up to them.”
John James, managing director of the Soho Estates, left his office to address the crowd. He said: “Soho Estates has no issue with what we consider a historic use of Soho buildings, but what we can not do is flout the law. We are a law-abiding company and when we are served a notice by the police we have to respond to that.”
Juliet Peston, from the Soho Society, said: “Firstly, we’ve always supported Soho as it is. The working women are part of our community and we do not want the flats closed. Essentially it’s all about their safety and they are part of our community. They are not brothels and they are absolutely not illegal. It seems to be a very underhand way of kicking them out.”
One woman who joined the protest but asked not be named said: “Soho has historically been the home of sex workers and the gay community. We made it amazing. We made it a rich culturally diverse place and the big businesses and would-be rich residents who would like to move here should remember what gave Soho the qualities that they so admire and want a piece off. Sex workers belong here, they’re safest here.
“To kick sex workers out of Soho is a travesty. It will lose its character and women will be unsafe. They’re not going to go away, they still have to do sex work, it will just be less safe and that is unacceptable when they have been here this long. They should remember who’s been filling their coffers all these years. They should remember that we are good tenants… and we are not breaking the law.”
Further evictions are expected to be made in Peter Street in January.