Open Letter: Why we withdrew from the conference ‘Tackling Prostitution: What works?’
Suzanne Gilbert 29 May 2006
Tel: 02078 085 316
Fax: 08701 658 989 Dear Suzanne Gilbert,
We have had to withdraw from participating in your conference: “Tackling Prostitution: What works? Reducing the impact on communities and lives”.
As an independent sex workers organisation which protects and defends the rights of sex workers, we cannot give credibility to an event which promotes a government agenda of clean-ups and crack-downs. As you know, we have opposed such repressive agendas for decades – they divide women from each other, split families and communities to no benefit except that of property developers.
When initially invited to speak, we understood that prostitute women’s experience would be included. But the final programme has nothing on the safety and welfare of sex workers, and our suggestion to alter it to reflect this was refused. You suggested we speak for three minutes under “protecting the community”, a title which implies that prostitute women are a threat to rather than an integral part of the community, struggling like other women to care for their loves ones. Yet we estimate that 70% of prostitute women are mothers.
There is nothing about how poverty, debt and lack of alternatives drive women into prostitution, and how criminalisation keeps them there. Street workers are targeted for zero-tolerance and ASBOs; anti-trafficking legislation is increasingly being used to deport rather than protect vulnerable immigrant women; anti-trafficking is also used to justify raids on any premises, and some women have reported to us that the police have stolen their hard earned money during such raids.
In addition, the agenda’s emphasis on “tackling demand” and “pimping networks” is a code for more crack-downs on clients which everyone knows makes it far more dangerous for prostitute women to work.
These are just some examples of the lack of concern for prostitute women’s safety and welfare, at a time when criminalisation is increasing not decreasing.
Capita’s reputation is already tarnished through the loans for favours scandal. Given its close association with government, what is to stop this conference being used as yet another occasion for those in authority to promote and justify measures that persecute rather than protect grassroots women and our families?
Will you please make this email available to your conference and beyond?
Power to the sisters,