Policing & Crime Bill: Prostitution proposals detrimental to safety
As measures on prostitution in the Policing and Crime Bill are discussed this week, we respectfully ask Members of the House of Lords to consider our arguments on women’s safety and why we oppose Clauses 16 (loitering), 17 (‘rehabilitation’) and 21 (closure orders), as well as Clause 14 (strict liability) and 19 (kerb crawling).
1. We disagree with the view that all prostitution is rape.
Since we started in 1976 many thousands of rape victims, including many sex workers, have come to us for help. All have had strong views about when sex was consenting and when it was not. But government ministers who wish to ‘abolish prostitution’ have tried to muddy this crucial distinction between rape and consenting sex, whether the latter is part of a long-term relationship, casual or paid for. Only the women involved can say if we consented to sexual activity or not.
2. The parallel drawn by some commentators between research on trafficking and research on rape and domestic violence is misleading.
Our own survey Ask Any Woman as well as the more recent British Crime Survey and Home Office research (A Gap or a Chasm? Attrition in reported rape cases, Research Study 293, 2005) collected and published statistics from women themselves identifying rape and other violence. This has not been true of trafficking research used by the government. The discredited claim that 80% of prostitute women in Britain are victims of trafficking was based on racist assumptions that women with a foreign accent were likely to have been trafficked.(1) Women were not given a chance to say whether they were coerced into prostitution (i.e. kidnapped and raped) or working to make a living (i.e. sex workers). Claims that the nature of trafficking makes this impossible are untrue. New research based on anonymous interviews gives a more truthful picture, but the government has ignored it. Why? See its methods and conclusions at:http://www.londonmet.ac.uk/londonmet/library/v25946_3.pdf.
3. Clauses 16, 17 and 21 will increase violence and exploitation.
Justice and protection for victims of rape and trafficking, and the prevention of these crimes, depend on the ability of survivors to come forward to report. That is the considered view of survivors of rape and other violence, including sex workers. Why is legislation aimed at women in the sex industry ignoring these views? Like the Royal College of Nursing and other members of the Safety First Coalition, we believe that criminalising prostitution forces women underground and into danger. Clauses 16, 17 and 21 are unsafe – women threatened with arrest for loitering or soliciting, forced ‘rehabilitation’, or having their premises raided and earnings seized, are not likely to seek help from the police. We know many who have not reported serious attacks for fear of being arrested; others who reported were told that they were “asking for it” or that “a prostitute can’t be raped”; others still were charged for minor offences such as speeding and petty theft. As a result their attackers were free to rape again and even murder.
4. Victims of trafficking are not helped by threats of deportation.
We work with asylum seekers who have suffered rape and other torture – some have run away from traffickers in their country of origin or in the UK. Instead of protection and safety they face disbelief, destitution, detention and deportation. How can victims report rape or exploitation if they risk being sent back to the torture they have fled from? While asylum appeals are being considered, many end up sleeping rough. Thirty-five per cent of the women who slept outside reported being sexually assaulted, including rape, none reported to police. Sometimes women went into the homes of men who they thought would help them, only to be raped.(2) Others have been driven to prostitution to survive.
5. Clause 19 targets men who have not been accused of violence.
There is an assumption that every man who goes to a prostitute is a dangerous predator. Yet there is no evidence that targeting clients decreases the number of violent men. Prostitution is illegal in the US, and both clients and sex workers are criminalised. Yet there is no shortage of rapists and serial murderers.
6. Clause 14 – a strict liability offence of “paying for sexual services of a prostitute subjected to force” is discriminatory. Non consenting sex is rape and should be dealt with as such.
Clause 14 reduces what amounts to rape to a lesser offence, while at the same time denying those accused of a defence. If the woman is being coerced by a client he should be prosecuted for rape – it is discriminatory to charge him with a lesser offence just because she is a prostitute. If she is being coerced by someone other than the client, then the person who coerced her should be prosecuted. The client should not be deprived of all legal defence.
In over 30 years of services and campaigning we have resisted attempts – from any party – to manipulate rape survivors’ pain to undermine human and legal rights. We have opposed proposals to classify some rapes as less serious than others, as well as proposals to lower the burden of proof placed on the prosecution. When the legal rights of some victims or some defendants are undermined, this soon becomes the norm for everyone else. Miscarriages of justice are then more likely, and justice is denied everyone. Men who have sex with a woman against her will or are reckless about her consent should be prosecuted for rape.
7. If police and prosecutors have not been successful in prosecuting traffickers, something is wrong with what they are doing. This is no justification for bad law.
The claim that it is not possible to prosecute traffickers for rape is false. Police and Crown Prosecution Service have often tried to excuse the appalling 6% conviction rate for reported rape by saying that rape was uniquely hard to prove. But a number of shocking cases have given the lie to their claim, exposing negligence and prejudice within the police and CPS as major obstacles to successful prosecutions. Worboys and Reid, two serial attackers who were allowed to rape tens of victims, and Southwark where police prioritised motor offences over rape, are recent examples. The private prosecution for rape brought by two sex workers with our help (jointly with the English Collective of Prostitutes and Legal Action for Women) proved that successful prosecutions are possible even in cases previously dismissed by police and CPS. Juries will convict if those gathering and presenting the evidence set their prejudices aside and get on with the work. We have spoken to jurors whose experiences of rape trials confirm this.
We have met with the DPP Keir Starmer and senior police who are restructuring rape investigations. We hope that their new openness and stated commitment to improve the way rape and domestic violence are dealt with, will bring much needed change. We see no reason why traffickers should not be prosecuted under existing laws on rape and other violent crimes.
We also note that there have been repeated reports of children being trafficked through Heathrow with the help of corrupt Home Office employees. If this is true, why is so little being done to rescue these children, and so much to prosecute prostitute women? And why do we hear so little from the government about women trafficked into the agricultural and domestic industries, the latter being notorious for sexual violence against enslaved workers?
Women Against Rape, 27 October 2009
(1) 2004 POPPY Project memorandum to Home Affairs Committee: ‘of approximately 8,000 women involved in off-street prostitution in the capital, 80% were foreign nationals. The Project believes that a large proportion of foreign national women are likely to have been trafficked…’ Other misleading ‘evidence’ is based on ads carrying the words ‘exotic’ or ‘foreign’ without corroboration from the women involved.
(2) Underground Lives – An Investigation into the living conditions and survival strategies of destitute asylum seekers in the UK, 2009.