Although the exchange of sexual services for money per se in the UK is legal, a number of related activities such as advertising, pimping and brothel-keeping are outlawed. This puts many sex workers’ rights and safety at stake.
About 11% of men in this country aged from 16 to 74 have paid for sex for at least once; there are more than 70,000 people working as prostitutes; on the average, they have 25 clients per week.
Despite of these facts, those who are engaged in buying and especially selling sex are not treated as one of us but even facing a high risk of persecution.
On July 2, the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) posted a compilation of reports it has received from January to June in 2017. Some highlights include 3 men who were arrested for kerb-crawling, a woman who was issued a “prostitute caution” and 14 prosecutions for brothel-keeping.
The criminalization of the clients increases the sex workers’ vulnerability since they are more likely to lose customers and to face violence due to the limited time they are given to check out their patrons.
Unlike regular cautions that require sufficient evidence of guilt and the confession of the offenders, a prostitute caution requires neither. The issuing depends on the discretion of the officers, and there is no right of appeal and calling a foul.
The Home Affairs Committee report (July 2016) recommended decriminalizing several sexually related activities which include allowing sex workers to share premises. However, this statement does not keep the sex workers from being prosecuted by the police.
The brothel-keeping law undermines their safety as proprietors, security guards, drivers, house cleaners and friends are convicted of “causing, inciting and controlling prostitution for gain” even if in most of the cases, these individuals are not forcing anyone to work. Consequently, this susceptible group is further marginalized and excluded by society.
An extreme example can be that of a seventy-year-old woman who was facing trial for brothel-keeping while in reality she worked as a cleaner of the premises, and she caught the attention of the police simply because she was trying to help a collapsed client.
There are even letters which have been delivered to premises stating: “police officers will conduct a further visit to these premises . . . any female at this address now who is found at the same address in the future is very likely to be arrested.”
On one hand, the government is looking at legalizing commercial sex, while in practice it is limiting the rights and weakening the interests of those who are engaged in this industry.
Laura Watson, an ECP activist, commented: “At a time when unemployment, benefit cuts and sanctions, lowering wages, increased homelessness, and debt are forcing more women, particularly mothers, into prostitution, it is unacceptable for the police to be focussed on criminalising women.”
She claimed: “40 percent of the women working on the street are selling sex for as little as five pounds just to put money on the electricity meter”. Laura also suggested that actions need to be taken by the Home Affairs Committee and Members of Parliament to ensure the safety and protection of the prostitutes.
For more information: www.prostitutescollective.net