The English Collective of Prostitutes was asked to comment in various media outlets on Jeremy Corbyn’s support for decriminalisation. We collated some of the media comments below.
“We welcome Jeremy Corbyn’s public statement in support of the decriminalisation of sex work. He more than many will have in mind the austerity cuts, 75% of which have targeted women, which are responsible for a massive increase in prostitution.
With 3.7 million children living in poverty in the UK and 176,000 people surviving on food banks, no wonder that women turning to prostitution. Doncaster reports a 60 per cent increase with charities saying: “Women are being forced to sell sex for £5 because of benefit sanctions.” Sheffield reports a 166% increase (2014) while charity workers in Hull report: “ . . . women who are literally starving and they are out there to feed themselves.”
But as poverty and prostitution increase so does criminalisation. We are currently fighting legal cases with women imprisoned for brothel-keeping for working in a flat with friends – obviously much safer than working alone; with women street workers who have had their ID confiscated by police and told they can only get it back if they show a plane ticket back to Romania despite having the right to reside in the UK; with a woman fired from her public service job because she worked part-time in pornography to supplement her wages.
We see daily the injustice of the prostitution laws which force sex workers to work in isolation and greater danger. As a woman working in Leeds said recently:
“The laws are pointing at us and saying, ‘Nobody cares about you”. That is the view of every killer who has targeted sex workers.
But perhaps the most compelling reason to abolish the laws is because the illegality and stigma that comes with the law hides who sex workers are – mothers, sisters, daughters, aunties and wives — women (and men and trans people) trying to survive in increasingly harsh economic times. Those feminist politicians who claim to speak for us but who misinterpret, lie, distort and disparage our experience, take advantage of our illegal status knowing that it is harder for us to speak publicly to set the record straight.
Approximately 85% of sex workers are women and the majority are mothers, mostly single mums. If prostitution policy and law was framed by these facts we’d get support for mothers and anti-austerity policies, not more criminalisation. So thank goodness for Corbyn and his close political ally John McDonnell MP, whose principled support for decriminalisation has meant that groups such as the Safety First Coalition, which includes the Royal College of Nursing, Hampshire Women’s Institute and Women Against Rape, have had a voice in parliament.
The evidence of the success of decriminalisation is compelling. At our evidence gathering symposium on prostitution last November, hosted by John McDonnell , Catherine Healy, founding member and coordinator of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective reported on research from prestigious sources such as the Prostitution Law Review Committee which, five years after the law was changed, found there had been no increase in prostitution or trafficking. Sex workers’ are more able to leave prostitution and secure other work because they aren’t registered and convictions have been cleared from their record. The law decriminalised sex workers on the street and in premises which has made it easier to report violence and allowed sex workers to work together, increasing safety.
An independent review by the Christchurch School of Medicine found 64 percent of sex workers found it easier to refuse clients – a litmus test of whether women are being forced or coerced.
Yet the Home Affairs Committee is studiously ignoring this compelling evidence. Instead, it appears to have a pre-determined outcome to recommend the criminalisation of clients – a proposal backed by an “unlikely union of evangelical Christians with feminist campaigners”. As one of the women who gave evidence to the inquiry said: “politicians who claim to want to save us by banning our work should, first of all, say how else we are to survive.”
Corbyn and John Mcdonnell’s support for decriminalisation puts sex workers on a par with others who have been unjustly criminalised – young people, people of colour, immigrant people. And that is right. Women picked up for soliciting have long said that the prostitution laws are to women what the sus laws are to young Black men – a tool for the police to persecute and harass, with Black and other women of colour being their first target.
Corbyn and Mcdonnell take their lead from sex workers who, like other workers, are striving to improve our working conditions. If the Labour party wants an anti-prostitution strategy they should get behind their leader’s determined campaign against benefit cuts, sanctions and an end to zero-hour contracts.”