West End Extra: Protest calling for decriminalisation of sex workers ‘shuts down Soho’
Demands for legislative changes to ‘make all women safe’
By Tom Foot
WOMEN sex workers shut down Leicester Square in a protest calling for full decriminalisation.
The strike on Friday night was part of the International Women’s Day protests and backed by the feminist movement and women’s groups across the country.
Student sex workers also joined the protest, which called for legislative changes to “make all women safe”.
Speaking through a megaphone, one said: “We’ve shut down Soho in a clear and defiant move to say we will not rest until we have full decriminalisation of sex work. The struggle for decriminalisation is linked to the oppression of all women.”
The strike was part of a new campaign by groups including the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) to allow sex workers to work in groups. The current law forces legal prostitutes to work alone, which campaigners say increases the danger that they are already in.
A petition, launched this month, said: “Even though their job is legal, prostitution laws prevent women from working together. Sex workers often have to choose between keeping safe and possible arrest, or avoiding a criminal record and putting themselves in danger.
“About two-thirds of sex workers have suffered violence. Most sex workers are mothers supporting families, prevented from leaving prostitution by poverty.”
The campaign argues that, for many women, sex work is a logical progression from degrading and poverty jobs many women find themselves working in.
Niki Adams from the ECP, pictured, said: “Our campaign is not asking what people think of sex work. We don’t want to discuss whether sex work is uniquely degrading or empowering, or whether it is work or victimisation – apply the same question to call centre workers and you’ll realise how absurd it is.”
The Home Affairs Select Committee has recommended that sex work be decriminalised in full. But despite the recommendation three years ago nothing has been done.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We have no plans to change the law around prostitution, but we recognise the need for more evidence in this area.
“That is why we are funding research into the scale and nature of prostitution in England and Wales.”