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Why Decriminalisation?


Increase safety – sex workers could work together in a supportive environment.

Police crackdowns break up safety networks.  Street workers are forced into isolated areas and are at greater risk of attack.[i] Brothel-keeping law makes it illegal for two or more sex workers to work together.

Decriminalisation promotes safety because sex workers can collectively assert their rights to better working conditions.

Claims that violence, particularly trafficking, can be reduced by criminalising clients are disproven by a 2014 Vancouver study which found that “criminalisation and policing strategies that target clients . . . profoundly impacted the safety strategies sex workers employed.[ii]

EXAMPLE: A sex worker was murdered in Ilford on 28 October 2013 in the wake of a policing operation which resulted in over 200 prostitute cautions being issued to women in the area over the last year, and many arrests for loitering and soliciting.[iii] Police raids involving 250 officers in Soho in early December, resulted in sex workers being dragged handcuffed in their underwear onto the streets in front of the media and evicted from the relative safety of their flats.[iv]

Stop rapists – sex workers could report violence without fear of arrest.

Fear of arrest, and for immigrant sex workers fear of deportation, are the biggest obstacles to reporting rape and other violence.[v] Violent men take advantage of the legal vulnerability of sex workers and deliberately target them. They pose a danger to sex workers and to other women.

EXAMPLE: Lorraine Morris was prosecuted after reporting an attack while her attackers were left free to attack again.[vi]

Enhance health – sex workers could access services without discrimination.

Aggressive policing and the stigma associated with sex work makes it harder for sex workers to negotiate condom use with clients and access health services. Possession of condoms is still used as evidence of prostitution.

EXAMPLE: The Royal College of Nursing has consistently voted by over 90% of its membership in favour of decriminalisation on the grounds of health and safety[vii]. Following decriminalisation in New Zealand, sex workers have demanded that employers provide better health and safety rights at work.[viii]

Provide legal recognition – sex workers are workers like other workers.

Sex workers would be entitled to improve their working conditions, get a pension, form and join trade unions.

EXAMPLE: Workers forced underground are more likely to be exploited as they have no legal recourse. The International Labour Organisation recognises sex work as work, and self-employed sex workers as legitimately employed.[ix] The Communication Workers Union and the GMB support decriminalisation.

Free up police time – rape, murder, trafficking and racist attacks urgently need tackling

At least 60 sex workers were murdered between 1998 and 2008.[x] While the vast majority of murder cases are solved, in one third of murders of sex workers the killer is never found.

Women Against Rape highlights the appalling 6.7% conviction rate for reported rape and the shortage of officers committed to investigating rape. Yet a brothel raid can on average engage 25 police officers and hundreds of officers are employed for months at a time on street crackdowns.

EXAMPLE: 250 police officers raided premises in central London last year at a cost of £20,000 (not including the substantial cost of the prior 18-month investigation and 10 subsequent court cases).

Protect immigrant sex workers – vulnerable victims of raids and exploitation.

Police raids are often justified in the name of saving victims of trafficking. But while immigrant sex workers face arrest and deportation, genuine victims rarely get help.

EXAMPLE: Police raids on sex workers flats in Mayfair in 2012 saw immigrant women’s flats closed whilst other people just got a warning. A complaint to the police documented how Romanian and Thai women suffered racist bullying and abuse and were threatened with deportation.[xi]

Recognise sex workers’ contribution – most sex workers are mothers supporting families and communities.

The majority of sex workers in the UK are mothers, mostly single mothers, supporting families in the face of rising unemployment, benefit cuts and sanctions, lowering wages, homelessness and debt.[xii]

EXAMPLE“My daughter has a disability and when I was ill social services paid someone £1000 a week to care for my child – the work I do for free. A percentage of what they pay a stranger would make life so much easier and I wouldn’t have had to go into prostitution. But because I am a mother I’m not entitled and because I care I went on the street.”[xiii]

End criminal records – they bar access to other jobs preventing sex workers from getting out.

Cautions and convictions remain on someone’s record until they are 100 years old and show up with a criminal records check.[xiv]

EXAMPLE: “As the mother of a disabled child, I knew a lot about caring. But I couldn’t apply for a caring job because I had convictions for loitering and soliciting.” Under the 2003 New Zealand Prostitution Reform Act sex workers had their criminal record “wiped clean”.[xv]

Reduce police corruption – enable sex workers to report wrongdoings.

Police wield enormous power over sex workers because of the threat of arrest and exposure. When police bully, steal, extort, and demand free sexual services from sex workers they often enjoy impunity for their crimes.[xvi] Charges of loitering and soliciting, Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) and Closure Orders can be brought on the uncorroborated word of a single police officer.

EXAMPLE: Sex workers in New Zealand report that since they have the backing of the law they can turn to the police and courts for help without fear of prosecution.[xvii]

Stop profiteering by the state – fines and confiscation orders are an incentive to policing consenting sex.

Proceeds of Crime (POCA) legislation is used to seize savings and assets (eg: a house, car, jewellery) from people convicted of prostitution offences. The burden of proof is reversed so the person has to prove the money did not come from criminal activity. Debts under POCA are the only ones which can’t be cancelled by a prison term.[xviii]

EXAMPLE: A woman convicted of brothel-keeping for working as a maid for five months was charged £10,000; she had to use the money saved for the gravestone of her baby daughter who died while the case was going on.[xix]

Help end the hypocritical stigma attached to sex work – it brings violence and discrimination.

Criminal laws against sex work intrude into people’s sex lives and are a form of state control over women’s bodies. Consenting sex should not be a crime.[xx] Gay sex was decriminalised in England in the 1960s, why not consenting sex where money is exchanged. Distinctions between sex work and other forms of labour are often moralistic. Virginia Woolf condemned the “brain prostitution” practiced by academics and others.[xxi] Many people feel that poverty is the immorality that makes prostitution the most viable choice for so many people.

EXAMPLE: The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade which recently recommended the criminalisation chose as its secretariat the notoriously homophobic Christian charity, CARE.[xxii] [xxiii] A recent opinion poll found that over half the population of the UK is opposed to the criminalisation of prostitution.[xxiv]


New Zealand successfully decriminalised prostitution in 2003. A government review has shown positive results: No rise in prostitution; women able to report violence without fear of arrest; attacks cleared up more quickly; sex workers more able to leave prostitution as convictions are cleared from their records; drug users treated as patients not criminals.


[i] “Two of Britain’s most senior police chiefs” said: “operations to tackle the trade are ‘counterproductive’” and likely to “put the lives of women at risk”.

[ii] BMJ Open 2014, Criminalisation of clients: reproducing vulnerabilities for violence and poor health among street-based sex workers in Canada—a qualitative study: Sex workers continued to mistrust police, had to rush screening clients and were displaced to outlying areas with increased risks of violence, including being forced to engage in unprotected sex.”








[x] Operation Enigma, 2008



[xiii] Evidence to Parliamentary Committee on Policing and Crime Bill, 2008.






[xix] R v MAP, March 2011, Wolverhampton


[xxi] “But to sell a brain is worse than to sell a body, for when the body seller has sold her momentary pleasure she takes good care that the matter shall end there. But when a brain seller has sold her brain, its anaemic, vicious and diseased progeny are let loose upon the world to infect and corrupt and sow the seeds of disease in others.” Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf (1938)


[xxiii] Consenting Sex is Not a Crime, Open Letter: