Collateral Damage: Sex Workers and the Anti-Trafficking Campaigns at Kampnagel, Hamburg

Ruth Jacobs

Guest post by Carol Leigh
http://vimeo.com/98282879

Trailer from Collateral Damage:
Sex Workers and the Anti-Trafficking Campaigns

This work is dedicated in Loving Memory to Andrew Hunter, who held my (virtual) hand through this process, encouraged me and provided an abundance of information and material.

FANTASIES THAT MATTER. IMAGES OF SEXWORK IN MEDIA AND ART

a conference in conjunction with Kampnagel International Summer Festival, Hamburg, in collaboration with Missy Magazine

“Beyond the moral and political questions of how to handle sex work, it has also become very clear that the debate is dominated by projections, fantasies and myths.”

Whore Images: Bleeding Hearts and Critical Thinking[1]

by Carol Leigh

I am honored to screen Collateral Damage: Sex Workers and the Anti-Trafficking Campaigns at Kampnagel’s sex work issues conference “FANTASIES THAT MATTER. IMAGES OF SEXWORK IN MEDIA AND ART.” The images of trafficking play a particularly crucial role in this crusade. The images

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The Swedish Model Criminalising The Purchase of Sex Is Dangerous: The European Parliament Should Have Rejected It

This article was first published on The Huffington Post – 27 February 2014
An extended version of this article can be read on Women News Network

Some 560 NGOs and civil society organisations along with 86 academics and researchers urged the European Parliament to reject the report promoting the criminalisation of the purchase of sex that was put forward by London MEP Mary Honeyball in a plenary session this week in Strasbourg. But although the European Parliament has voted in favour of the report, putting pressure on EU member states to re-evaluate their prostitution laws, they do not need to make the same mistake.

Not surprisingly, the experiment has failed. In the thirteen years since the law was enacted, the Swedish government has been unable to prove that the law has reduced the number of sex buyers or sellers or stopped trafficking. All it has to show for its efforts are a (contested) public support for the law and more danger for street-based sex workers. Despite this failure, the government has chosen to ignore the evidence and proclaim the law to be a success; it also continues to advocate that other countries should adopt a similar law. (“The Swedish Law to Criminalize Clients: A Failed Experiment in Social Engineering”, Ann Jordan, Program on Human Trafficking and Forced Labor, Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law)

In sound bites, the Swedish Government has been spinning their sex purchase ban, known as the “Swedish model” or sometimes the “Nordic model” though it is not adopted by all Nordic countries, as a success. However, research does not show it has reduced sex trafficking or sex work. In addition, their own police report demonstrates it has pushed prostitution indoors with nearly three times as many Thai massage parlours in Stockholm and the vicinity:

In 2009, the National Bureau of Investigation estimated that there were about 90 Thai massage parlours in Stockholm and vicinity, most of which were judged to be offering sexual services for sale. At the turn of 2011/2012, the number of Thai massage parlours in the Stockholm area was estimated to be about 250 and throughout the country about 450. (The Swedish National Police Board, Situation Report 13 “Trafficking in human beings for sexual and other purposes” for the year 2011)

Mary Honeyball, Labour’s Spokesperson on the European Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee, who wrote the report recommending the Swedish sex purchase ban, said she wanted a model that reduced prostitution. She claims demand has halved in Sweden. However, this is untrue:

The law has been enforced almost entirely against clients of street-based sex workers but the government does not have any evidence of a decrease in sex buyers since the law went into effect. They do not know how many men were soliciting on the street before or after the law. They do not know if men moved from the streets to indoors and on line, or out of the country. They have not collected such data and so cannot prove any success in achieving the primary goal of the law. (“The Swedish Law to Criminalize Clients: A Failed Experiment in Social Engineering”, Ann Jordan, Program on Human Trafficking and Forced Labor, Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law)

On Sunday 23 February, I met Mary Honeyball at the BBC1 debate on The Big Questions about whether it should be illegal to pay for sex. Clearly, by the inaccuracies she was stating, she is misinformed – and misinforming others – about the actual outcomes of the Swedish model.

There is very little evidence to suggest that any criminal laws related to sex work stop demand for sex or reduce the number of sex workers. Rather, all of them create an environment of fear and marginalisation for sex workers, who often have to work in remote and unsafe locations to avoid arrest of themselves or their clients. These laws can undermine sex workers’ ability to work together to identify potentially violent clients and their capacity to demand condom use of clients. (UNAIDS Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work)

As someone who had a traumatic experience of prostitution, mine is a standard narrative held up as an example of why the Swedish model is needed. But actually my traumatic experience in the sex trade, suffering being raped more than once and beaten once, every time while working alone, and ending up an intravenous heroin and crack addict, is a prime example of why decriminalisation is needed.

There is no drug harm reduction practised in Sweden because it is deemed to enable drug use. So as a former intravenous addict, I would probably have died from a blood-borne virus or perhaps lost a limb. Equally, there is no harm reduction for sex workers because access to free condoms is erroneously believed to encourage people to sell sex. So I would be at an increased risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases if I was unable to afford my own condoms. These issues primarily affect women working on-street who are most often in poverty and many suffering with addiction. The sex purchase ban has put these women in more danger:

The approach of criminalising the client has been shown to backfire on sex workers. In Sweden, sex workers who were unable to work indoors were left on the street with the most dangerous clients and little choice but to accept them. Where sex work is criminalised, sex workers are very vulnerable to abuse and extortion by police, in detention facilities and elsewhere. (UNAIDS Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work)

The Swedish model has meant for sex workers who are mothers, they are at risk of losing custody of their children as by selling sex they are deemed unfit parents. This happened to Petite Jasmine and custody of her children was given to the father, a man known to be violent, who had threatened and stalked her. She was given no protection by the Swedish authorities. Then, in 2013, he murdered her.

The Swedish model is social cleansing, something Sweden has history of undertaking. It must not be done in this country or in any country.

Without the criminalisation of the purchase of sex the UK, and other countries, should work to establish comprehensive services to meet the needs of women, men, trans men and women, and nonbinary people seeking to leave the sex trade. There are 80,000 people in prostitution in the UK, most of whom are in poverty and 70% are single mothers. Huge investment from the government is needed and these complex services are going to take a long time to build. Additionally, these services will not work if they are forced.

For many women selling sex, they do not have other options, so we need to reform our benefits system and end poverty so no woman has to sell sex in order to pay her rent so her family are not made homeless, to ensure her children eat, or to heat her home. Criminalising her clients is not going to help her. It will only put her in greater danger.

The priority for police must be building trusting relationships with people in prostitution as it is in Merseyside, but this is impossible when clients are criminalised under the Swedish model. Merseyside has astonishingly high conviction rates for violent offenders targeting sex workers, which makes all of society safer. Their hate crime model, working closely with sex work projects that offer harm reduction services, has great results on assisting women leave the sex trade and ‘exiting’ is not the focus.

Women being able to work together in well-lit areas on-street and a small number of women being able to work from premises together should be decriminalised as research shows whether on-street or off-street, women are more at risk of rape and other violence when they are on their own and isolated. The two women who were recently murdered in London were working alone: Mariana Popa who was working on-street, and in an area where a police crackdown on street prostitution was being enforced, and Maria Duque-Tunjano who was working alone in a flat. Under decriminalisation they might still be alive because they would have been able to work with other women for safety.

Decriminalisation also means sex trafficking victims do not need to fear arrest and being charged. Jes Richardson, a sex trafficking survivor, was not able to turn to police for this reason, and it was a sex worker who helped her escape. She is another woman formerly in the sex trade who is advocating for decriminalisation. The Swedish model, according to the Swedish Police report, cannot demonstrate it has reduced sex trafficking:

According to the Swedish National Police Board it is difficult to estimate how many people may have fallen victim to human trafficking in Sweden during 2011. The number of victims discovered in Sweden depends largely on the resources which the police put into detecting this crime and on the skills that exists within the police organisation. The level of these initiatives varies between police authorities and differs from one year to another. Neither is it possible to identify (nor indeed to locate) all of the victims, mostly girls and women, who are mentioned in tapped telephone calls or observed during police surveillance.  (The Swedish National Police Board, Situation Report 13 “Trafficking in human beings for sexual and other purposes” for the year 2011)

Sex workers are often well placed to identify and assist sex trafficking victims and essential in ensuring this and developing it further are good relationships between the police and sex workers.

I stand with 560 NGOs and civil society organisations and 86 academics and researchers who also object to the Swedish model and urge EU member states not to criminalise the purchase of sex when reassessing their prostitution laws.

Dr Jay Levy, who conducted research in Sweden over several years on the outcomes of the criminalisation of the purchase of sex, met with me in London at the end of 2013 to discuss his findings.

Kent Police ‘Safe Exit’ Scheme Claiming to Help Women in Prostitution Instead Caused Them Harm

Safe Exit

This article was first published on The Huffington Post  – 21 February 2014

Services to help women, men and transgender people seeking to leave the sex trade are essential. Also vital are the life-saving services that are harm reduction focused such as outreach offering condoms to sex workers, sexual health screening, counselling, and syringes for intravenous drug users. These two sets of services are not mutually exclusive, but can and must be provided simultaneously. However, a BBC investigation into the policing of prostitution in Medway, Kent showed harm reduction was dangerously disrupted by their aggressive ‘cleaning up the streets’ approach.

In 2009, Kent Police began a scheme in Medway called Safe Exit, supposedly to help women leave the sex trade by offering treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, training and education, and housing. These services along with others such as trauma therapy are needed by many women seeking to leave prostitution. But what our investigation uncovered was that instead of receiving these services, the women received a criminal record, a major obstacle preventing people leaving the sex trade by hindering other employment chances and keeping them trapped in prostitution.

The women targeted by the scheme were working on-street, most likely to be selling sex due to poverty, with many being single mothers. Kent Police claimed to have reduced the number of women working on-street by over 90, but it seems this figure may have been exaggerated as our sources, two public servants associated with the scheme, say originally there were only 40-50 women working on-street. Our sources also told us the women were not helped to leave the sex trade but that the scheme was a “political PR stunt”. Drug addiction treatment consisted of methadone prescribing and help with housing was a room in a shared house – a temporary solution to a permanent problem. “There was about five or six in one [house] and I’m not sure how many in the other – maybe the same. Certainly not a hundred,” we were told.

“They attached ASBOs on to them and a few ended up in prison and a few moved places, some underground,” one of our sources said. According to them, the hard line policing resulted in alienating the women from harm reduction services. This was reiterated by a woman working as an escort who told me she visited her friends working on-street in the area and provided them with condoms and lubrication as due to fear of arrest they were no longer able to access local services.

Another woman working as an escort locally told me she wanted help leaving the sex industry, but was unable to contact the Safe Exit scheme. Safe Exit did not have a website or a contact number on any of the partners’ websites. A man I met in a Medway cafe told me there were a few brothels in the area. A sex shop on the high street provided us with directories in which local women were advertising sexual services. One escort advertising website listed over 500 people in Kent. Prostitution was not eradicated in Medway. Women working on-street were displaced.

Initially, via their press office, Kent Police told us the scheme was being led by the Council. When we approached Medway Council asking how the women were helped and how many were helped as well as access for filming, they told us to contact Kent Police as the scheme was being run by them. We then put a Freedom of Information request to Kent Police, who informed us their part in the project was purely enforcement and referred us to Crime Reduction Initiatives, a charity providing people with help for substance misuse problems, that were running the Safe Exit scheme. Although CRI allege to have “delivered an award-winning project in Medway which reduced the numbers of street prostitutes from 110 to 15 over ten months” when we posed the same questions we’d asked the Council and Kent Police, CRI never responded.

As we had done with Merseyside Police when making the Inside Out documentaries for the London and North West regions that showed the hate crime approach to policing prostitution, we also asked Kent Police for access to film. This was repeatedly denied to us and in a letter to the BBC, it was implied the reason for this was restructuring of staff within the scheme, the scheme we were led to believe was still running, but the truth was the scheme had actually ceased to exist.

Although we were unable to gain access to Kent Police, in a This is Kent article I found a worrying quote from Sergeant Woolley who seems to have held a senior role running the Safe Exit team engaging with the women. “A lot of them have got no housing, they have no documents, or they have no qualifications. All of these minor things mean these women can’t take that step. We are trying to give them affection and support.” The issues he cites are not minor barriers to leaving the sex trade. They are major issues and need to be recognised for what they are so the right help can be provided to truly overcome them. And what does he mean by giving the women “affection”? Sergeant Woolley continues by saying, “But every woman involved in prostitution in the area knows that if I can catch them fair and square, they will be arrested.” With people in the sex trade suffering higher rates of rape and other violence, when a crime is committed against them they will most certainly not feel safe reporting to Kent police. As well as denying people in the sex trade the human right of the protection of the police and recourse to justice, their punitive approach puts all of society in more danger from rapists and other violent criminals.

In contrast, in Merseyside, the police and the sex work projects collaborate to provide protection and harm reduction to people in prostitution whilst facilitating exiting for those seeking to leave the sex trade. Merseyside leads the country in convictions for crimes committed against people in prostitution – a 67% conviction rate for rape was achieved in 2010 compared with the national average conviction rate for rape of 6.5% – and since their hate crime model was introduced in 2006, numbers of women working on-street have halved.

Undoubtedly, there are fewer women working on-street in Medway, though the actual number is disputable. But fewer women working on-street is not a success if it is achieved by displacing them, forcing them to work in more dangerous areas, perhaps even pushing them into the hands of pimps, giving them criminal records and as our sources confirmed, alienating them from harm reduction services, which save lives. Since the launch of Safe Exit, some women known to work on-street have died, including one woman who was murdered. This is not unusual during police crackdowns. In 2013, a 24-year-old Romanian woman working on-street was murdered in East London one month into the Police Operation Clearlight.

The only measurable element of the Safe Exit scheme, which instead of a success is a huge failure, is the number of arrests. Between 2008-2013, 67 women were charged with soliciting for prostitution* in Medway with nearly half of these charges made during 2010/11. During the five years those 67 women were charged in Medway, in other Kent districts including Thanet, Gravesham, Shepway, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge and Mailing, and Tunbridge Wells not one woman was charged with soliciting.

This was not a scheme concerned with helping a group of vulnerable women. It was a scheme concerned with gentrification.

The award Safe Exit received from Police and Crime Commissioner, Ann Barnes, was for ‘cleaning up the streets’ and not for any help given to women leaving the sex trade. When I met with Mrs Barnes, she ended the interview early after being unable to tell me what help the women received or where they are now. She could only tell me how nice the area looked.

There were no sex work projects involved in Safe Exit, which should have been a key part in devising and running the scheme. Without sex work specialists, the needs of people seeking to leave the sex trade are not met. For the majority, focusing only on addiction and viewing prostitution as offending does not address the reasons women are selling sex in the first place.

So what lessons can be learned from the Safe Exit scheme and going forward, for future policing of prostitution? ‘Cleaning up the streets’ campaigns come at the cost of human life and utterly fail women involved in on-street prostitution. The opposing model operating in Merseyside, which prioritises the protection of people in the sex trade over enforcement of the law, is what works. It builds trusting relationships between women, men and transgender people selling sex and the police, ensures access to harm reduction services offered by the sex work projects who work closely with the police, provides help to women seeking to leave the sex trade and dramatically increases reporting of crimes and conviction rates of rapists and other violent offenders, making all of society safer.

Our sources say Safe Exit is about to be relaunched. But although in 2011, the Association of Chief Police Officers recommended all forces adopt the Merseyside hate crime model, none have, and none are obliged to. So Safe Exit could continue wreaking damage with the same approach. Because the Merseyside model of policing prostitution is not compulsory, I have joined with Alex Bryce, Manager of National Ugly Mugs, and Jackie Summerford, mother of Bonnie Barratt who was murdered at age 24 in the sex trade, calling for Theresa May MP to make the Merseyside hate crime model of policing prostitution law UK wide. Please support our Change.org petition to ensure the country’s leading policing model operates in every force.

* Kent Police told us that “an individual arrested and charged could be counted more than once (i.e. if arrested in more than one year)”.

In the Booth with Ruth – Meg Munoz, Former Sex Worker, Trafficking Survivor, Ally and Rights Advocate

Former sex worker, trafficking survivor, ally and rights advocate, Meg Munoz, discusses the advantages of the sex worker rights and anti-human trafficking movements working together and why she advocates for decriminalisation.

Ruth Jacobs

Meg Munoz

How did you become involved in the movement against sex trafficking and sexual exploitation?

Following my time in the industry, connecting with the sex worker rights and anti-trafficking movements was just natural. I started escorting at 18, but due to drug and alcohol issues, I took a break after about 2 years. A few years later, I found myself suddenly supporting myself and going to school so I went back. The reality is, I liked what I did. I loved the economic independence and personal freedom I felt. I had nice clients and good money rolling in, but based on social stigma, a lack of real support, and my family upbringing, I felt like hiding everything was my only choice.

About 2 years back into the industry, I had a close friend turn on me. He blackmailed me, threatened me, and literally terrorized me for the next 3 years while…

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More Than 560 NGOs and 86 Researchers Demand Members of European Parliament to Reject Ms Honeyball Report

The International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) PRESS RELEASE – 18 February 2014

The International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) More than 560 civil society organisations and 86 researchers tell the European Parliament to reject a report on prostitution by Mary Honeyball, MEP for London, which promotes the criminalisation of clients of sex workers, in an upcoming plenary session on February 25th.

An incredible number of 560 NGOs and civil society organisations as well as 86 academics and researchers have signed letters to the members of the European Parliament asking them to reject a report by MEP Mary Honeyball, which asks EU Member States to consider the criminalisation of the clients of sex workers.

The letter from NGOs, initiated by the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe, a network representing 59 organisations in Europe and Central Asia, denounces the conflation of sex work and trafficking, the disregard for sex workers’ health and safety and the lack of evidence on which the report is based.

Luca Stevenson, Coordinator of the ICRSE commented: “The Swedish Model of criminalisation of clients is not only ineffective in reducing prostitution and trafficking, it is also dangerous for sex workers. It increases stigma which is the root cause of violence against us. It is a failed policy denounced by all sex workers’ organisations and many women’s, LGBT and migrants’ organisations, as well as many UN bodies.”

The signatories include sex workers’ rights organisations but also many women’s rights groups such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation, a network of 40 members in Europe, and the National Council of German Women’s Organisations, which represents 50 women’s organisations in Germany.

Mona Küppers, vice chairwoman of the latter, commented: “We think that the systematic criminalisation of sex buyers will not bring the change supporters of this resolution are hoping for. Quite the opposite: the experience in Sweden shows that prostitution does not just simply disappear after introducing the criminalisation of buyers – activities just simply shift underground. This cannot be the solution – particularly not for the women working in the sex trade.”

Marija Tosheva, Advocacy officer of SWAN, the Sex Workers Rights Advocacy Network of Central Eastern Europe and Central Asia explains: “The report fails to represent different realities of sex workers across Europe. It reinforces the stereotypes that all women from Eastern Europe are trafficked in Western Europe, thus labelling all of them as victims, denying their agency and excluding them from the ongoing debate and decision making processes. Some sex workers do migrate searching for better job opportunities, and some get vulnerable to violence and exploitation, but labelling all sex workers as voiceless victims and criminalizing any aspect of sex work is just distracting the focus from pragmatic toward moralistic and repressive solutions.”

A large number of HIV organisations, including the European Aids Treatment Group and Aids Action Group also endorsed the letter. Mary Honeyball barely mentions HIV in her report, apparently unaware that sex workers are a key population in the HIV response. The report quotes the World Health Organisation’s definition of sexual health but ironically ignores that the WHO has positioned itself against the “Swedish Model” as it negatively impacts the lives of sex workers and limits their access to condoms and other measures to prevent HIV.

Another document drafted and signed by more than 86 academics and researchers consists of a letter to MEPs and a counter report analysing the lack and misrepresentation of evidence in Mary Honeyball’s report. The letter states, “We are concerned that this report is not of an acceptable standard on which to base a vote that would have such a serious, and potentially dangerous, impact on already marginalised populations.” It continues, “The report by Ms Honeyball fails to address the problems and harms that can surround sex work and instead produces biased, inaccurate and disproven data. We believe that policies should be based on sound evidence and thus hope that you will vote against the motion to criminalise sex workers’ clients.”  

The counter-report noticed that, amongst other astounding errors, Mary Honeyball completely misinterpreted a joint report commissioned by the City of Amsterdam and the Dutch Ministry of Justice, embarassingly “mistaking” data on coffee shops for data on brothels.

The 560 NGOs and 86 researchers signatories of these letters urge the MEPs to consider the evidence and reject Mary Honeyball’s report on the 25th of February.

Contact Luca Stevenson for ICRSE: info@sexworkeurope.org.

To download the letter signed by more than 560 NGOs, click here.

To download the letter and counter-report signed by 86 researchers and academics, click here.

For more information on this campaign and statements click here.

Italiano: http://tinyurl.com/poqmeys
Deutsch: http://tinyurl.com/ntetdhf
Español: http://tinyurl.com/pd9fqpr
Român: http://tinyurl.com/oxrxeud
Polish: http://tinyurl.com/ntuejts
Português: http://tinyurl.com/pngbmvc
Francais: http://tinyurl.com/m9wgu2t
Suomalainen: http://tinyurl.com/q9728m2

Click here for the statement against the FEMM report from the Global Network on Sex Work projects.

Click here for the statement against the FEMM report by the German Women Council.

Action Alert: Stop Attacks, Arrests & Evictions Against Sex Workers

Soho Safer Working Premises ClosuresFrom The English Collective of Prostitutes

Violence against sex workers is increasing. Tragically, two sex workers have been murdered in London in the past three months. At the same time, the police have stepped up raids, arrests and closures of premises where women are working in relative safety. This is despite senior police officers admitting that: “[police] operations to tackle the trade are “counterproductive” and likely to put the lives of women at risk.” 

Eighteen flats in Soho, Central London, have been closed. Most of the women who were evicted are mothers and have now lost their livelihood.

Women are appealing against eviction on 10, 17 and 24 February at Isleworth Crown Court. Please join us in demanding that these closures be stopped.

Please write urgently addressing your letters to:

MODEL LETTER at: http://prostitutescollective.net/2014/02/07/action-alert-stop-attacks-arrests-evictions-against-sex-workers

Background

Last December, 200 officers in riot gear with dogs raided sex workers’ flats in Soho. Some women were handcuffed and dragged out in their underwear in front of the media. Closure notices were issued against 18 flats and closure orders were then confirmed by a district judge in subsequent court cases.

In order to get a closure order, the police have to show that prostitution offences are being committed on the premises, namely “controlling for gain” and “causing and inciting prostitution”. Each court case followed a similar pattern. Women gave evidence that they were working independently and consensually and were not controlled. One woman explained: “Another sex worker told me about the address and that it was a good job . . . I decided to work as a prostitute . . . I wanted a better life and to support my two sons”.

Police claimed in court that women were controlled because they were “required to work certain days of the week, between certain times and charge a specified amount of money for each service”. No “controller” was named or identified.

District Judge Susan Williams found sex workers’ evidence “truthful”, admitted that “no evidence has been put before me of force and coercion” and acknowledged that a maid “is considered essential for safety”. But she rubber-stamped police claims that women were controlled and ruled that the “lure of gain and the hope of a better life” for women who were “desperate to earn some money” was “incitement”. She closed every flat that came before her. Why is women’s poverty and the determination to get out of it being used to justify the closure of safer premises?

Soho is one of the safest places for women to work as they have a maid or receptionist with them and the support of the local community. Of the two women recently murdered one was working on the street and one was working indoors, but alone. Most of the women who were evicted in Soho are mothers and grandmothers. Immigrant women were targeted by the police who took them away and held them for hours despite women protesting they were not trafficked.

Westminster Council backed the raids despite Cllr. Nickie Aiken’s claims that: “Our policy is that if a brothel is just providing a sex service, we just turn a blind eye because we think it is safer for the women and safer for the residents and other businesses around.” 

Met police commander Alison Newcomb initially briefed the press that the raids were “to close brothels where we have evidence of very serious crimes happening, including rape and human trafficking.” But in NONE of the closure order cases has there been any evidence of rape or trafficking. Newcomb later admitted that “no specific number of women were suspected of being trafficked.” Why are these closures going ahead?

The Met Police just got European Union funding to tackle trafficking – were the raids staged to justify this money and get more?

Local people are concerned that the closures are to make way for the gentrification of historic Soho. Actor Rupert Everett, who came to court and wrote about it in the Observer, described what he saw as “a land-grab, facilitated by the police.

Sex workers have been part of the Soho community for centuries. If they can be closed down without any evidence of force or coercion, any sex worker flat anywhere can be closed, in fact any flat – if a friend helps a sex worker design a website, that can be taken as evidence of control and the flat closed. Thirty seven premises were recently closed in Newham. Who will be safe then? How long before LBGTQ people or immigrants are targeted, or in fact anyone who doesn’t fit the ambitions of the land-grabbers?

If the police get away with this onslaught against those of us who have such strong and visible support, then attacks, arrests and evictions will escalate, especially against those of us who work on the street. One woman described the discrimination and degradation she faces at the hands of the police:

“The police wait outside my house to catch me when I leave. It doesn’t matter how I’m dressed, who I’m with, where I’m going, they say I’m loitering. When they stop me they jeer at me, and make jokes at my expense, often sexually explicit jokes. When they arrest me I’m strip searched and they sometimes leave the door open so the male officers can see in. All this is to humiliate me.”

In the name of safety, human and legal rights, and in the name of historic Soho

WE MUST STOP THESE CLOSURES!

Policing Prostitution – The Merseyside Hate Crime Model That Prioritises Protection of Sex Workers

Lost Lives

From “Hate Crime, Harm Reduction & Social Inclusion: Addressing Violence Against Sex Workers in Merseyside” by Shelly Stoops (ISVA) Armistead Street Project, Liverpool CHT.
http://www.ihra.net/files/2010/08/31/1009.pdf

This article was first published on The Huffington Post – 5 February 2014

Bonnie Barratt was only 24 years old when she was murdered in 2007 in East London. The serial killer who took her life might have been stopped and Bonnie might still be alive today if her friends had been able to turn to the police. The murderer had been a regular client to the women who were in prostitution and he’d started to get rough with some of them.

But women in the sex trade don’t have the protection of the police. Often when reporting crimes against them they fear being charged with something related to prostitution, not being believed, being blamed, losing their standing in the community, losing custody of their children. There are so many barriers to reporting crimes committed against them, most do not and that is what makes them ‘easy targets’ for criminals. Women in prostitution are at the highest risk of rape and other violence and in London, their mortality rate is 12 times the national average.

I was introduced to Bonnie’s mother, Jackie Summerford, who brings up Bonnie’s son, through a friend when I began working to raise awareness of the policing model operating in Merseyside. A year before Bonnie was murdered, in 2006, Merseyside Police pledged to treat crimes against sex workers as hate crimes. Their approach to policing prostitution is very different from the rest of the UK as are their results convicting rapists and other violent offenders targeting people in the sex trade. In 2010, their conviction rate for those who raped sex workers was 67%. The national average conviction rate for rape is just 6.5%.

The police in Merseyside work closely with sex work projects that offer services such as harm reduction, counselling and outreach. A specialist trained Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) acts as an intermediary when people in the sex trade have been the victim of crime and supports them through the process from report to court.

This joined-up approach prioritising protection over enforcement enables women in the sex trade to feel safe reporting crimes committed against them. Because trusting relationships with the police have been developed, reporting of crimes has dramatically increased. Women in prostitution in Merseyside know when they call the police they will be treated as any other victim of crime as is their right. But although this is the right of every person in prostitution throughout the UK, it is not what they receive and that has to change.

In 2011, the Association of Chief Police Officers recommended all forces adopt the Merseyside hate crime approach, but none have and none are obliged to. Because of this, I have joined with Jackie, Bonnie’s mother, and Alex Bryce, Manager of National Ugly Mugs – a scheme that increases safety for sex workers – calling for Theresa May MP to make this model of policing law throughout the UK.

Currently, approaches deployed in other parts of the country are failing these women, forcing them into more isolated and dangerous areas and alienating them further from the police and this cannot continue. Just last year when Redbridge Police took a hard line approach to women working on-street, which is known to create more danger, 24-year-old Mariana Popa was murdered. Policing policies must serve to protect people, not put them in danger.

The Merseyside hate crime model works to increase safety for sex workers and by convicting more rapists and other violent criminals, all of society is made safer. Please support our petition on Change.org to make this the standard policing approach for the UK.