9.30am Highbury Magistrates, Court, Wednesday 6 May 2009
On Wednesday 6 May, Ms W goes to court charged under section 33 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 with the offence “to assist in the management of a brothel” at two premises. Ms W had no responsibility for the flats. She is not a tenant, did not hold keys and did not pay any of the bills. She was an occasional visitor and her role was to ensure the safety of other women. There is no suggestion of force, coercion, violence, abuse or trafficking.
In addition, Ms W is herself a victim of violence. Two years ago, she bravely escaped from a violent partner after 28 years of abuse. She is presently struggling to support herself, her disabled daughter and elderly mother who is housebound having suffered a stroke. Any prosecution would have a severe detrimental effect on her mental and physical wellbeing and on the welfare of her daughter and mother.
Why are charges being brought against women like Ms W, who are the first line of defence for other women against violent attacks? Prosecution of women in Ms W’s situation forces women to work alone leaving them more vulnerable.
Ms W says:
“I was there to protect women if any of the men visitors turned nasty. Now that I’m not around they are on their own. The two of them call me all the time, terrified of being attacked. If I am convicted it will destroy my chances of getting another job.”
There is widespread opposition, including among members of parliament and peers, to women being criminalised for working collectively and consensually.
Even the Home Office has acknowledged:
“ . . .the present definition of brothel ran counter to advice that, in the interests of safety, women should not sell sex alone.” (The Times 18 January 2006).
During the Second Reading of the Policing and Crime Bill (19 January 2009) Minister of State, Alan Campbell spoke against the criminalisation of women who “were simply making cups of tea, keeping the diary and helping to keep the women safe”. In response to MPs concerns, Mr Campbell also said “It is certainly not our intention to criminalise those involved in freely consenting transactions.”
Why is public money being squandered on this prosecution? Recent public outrage, spearheaded by Women Against Rape, demanded a change in police priorities which result in prosecutions of consenting sex while the investigation of rape and other violence continues to be downgraded and dismissed.
In response to a letter from Legal Action for Women asking for the prosecution to be dropped, the Reviewing Officer for the CPS based at Holborn Police Station has replied saying that “there is sufficient evidence to proceed” and that it is “in the public interest to do so”. Despite the short notice, and reflecting public concern that this prosecution could leave women at greater risk of violence, many people have written to DPP Kier Starmer asking for this decision to be reconsidered.
Ms W is ready to be interviewed but wants to protect her identity because she is frightened of being found by her violent ex-partner.
For further information: English Collective of Prostitutes, 020 7482 2496/07811 964 171 firstname.lastname@example.org
The ECP co-ordinates The Safety First Coalition which includes anti-poverty campaigners, church people & residents from Ipswich & elsewhere, the Royal College of Nursing, the National Association of Probation Officers, members of the medical & legal professions, bereaved families, prison reformers, sex worker & drugs rehabilitation projects
 Letter to Lynne Jones MP, 27 March 2009