Harlots Parlour

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Open letter to the House of Lords

I write to urge you to oppose Clauses 20 (especially) and 13 of the Policing and Crime Bill, now in its Report stage and heading to Third Reading on 11th November.

Clause 20 facilitates the summary closure and sealing of brothels by the police. It is open to abuse when it is realised that a ‘brothel’ may be no more than two women working and living together for reasons of company and safety. If these women are forced out of premises it is likely that they will seek to continue working, but in more dangerous circumstances. For an example, please see:
http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23644695-rector-in-court-to-support-soho-brothel.do and http://www.prostitutescollective.net/SohoJusticePrevails.htm
where the police sought to close prostitute flats in 61 Dean Street, Soho -on evidence later thrown out by the magistrate- and where at least one displaced woman then took to the greater danger of the King’s Cross streets.

What possible good is achieved by such closures? If the concern is about women’s safety it is surely safer if prostitutes can work together. If the concern is about trafficking –of which more below– then it is easier for the police to ‘keep an eye’ on established brothels than on dispersed prostitutes. This was perfectly understood by the present Government in 2005/6 when it proposed legalisation of ‘mini-brothels’http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article789549.ece

The volte face from this earlier policy has not been explained, and it is hard to escape the view that is reflects only a triumph of the views of the present Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and the recent Home Secretary over evidence and common sense. This is a poor basis for legislation.

Beyond urging you to reject Clause 20 I would urge you to support any amendments restoring the former policy of allowing mini-brothels.

Clause 13 (now apparently 14) creates a strict liability offence of having sex with a prostitute who has been forced. ‘Forced’ includes ‘coerced by threats and other psychological means including exploitation of vulnerability’.

I would agree that any punter who knowingly has sex with a forced prostitute is guilty of rape and deserves to be punished accordingly. But strict liability means that a client can be fined up to £1000 even if he does not know the prostitute’s circumstance or if she has lied to him about them. This goes against legal principle and natural justice and, as the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights noted:

… [there] should be a requirement that the defendant was aware or at least ought to have been aware that the prostitute was controlled. We suggest amendments in the format that has also been suggested by the JCHR in its report on the Bill…

The clause on ‘other psychological means including exploitation of vulnerability’ is particularly iniquitous, for how is the court to decide on the psychological state of the woman at the time she became a prostitute?

I suspect that the purpose of Clause 13 is to ‘send a message to punters’ and that there will be few prosecutions, not least because it is so hard to find and keep track of the very few trafficked or coerced prostitutes who are identified- see e.g. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/lawandorder/6194734/Two-in-three-rescued-women-have-vanished-again.html

Consequently the clause probably shouldn’t worry clients very much. However a malign unintended consequence will be that a client who suspects ‘his’ prostitute was trafficked will be less likely to inform the police, for fear that he will be prosecuted. Punters do report cases, as detailed in Case A (p28 para 1) of http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/prgpdfs/fprs125.pdf. Surely the legislative framework should seek to encourage such reporting, not to discourage?

Turning to the background, I am aware that you are receiving much lobbying in support of clauses 13 and 20. Many supporters are motivated by a moral view of prostitution based on particular religious or feminist precepts, but seek to justify their opinions on a series of assertions, summarised by the Archbishop of York in a recent Sunday Times article (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/article6869550.ece) that:

• Many prostitutes are trafficked, including 4 of 5 in London brothels
• Many suffer post-traumatic stress disorder
• Many begin at disturbingly young ages
• Many suffer violence, with 65 murders in 18 years

I believe that these assertions are either incorrect or based on highly selected subsets

Trafficking and coercion. The assertion that 4 out of 5 prostitutes in London brothels are trafficked comes from the Poppy Project’s, Big Brothel report, which notoriously assumed that any foreign woman was trafficked and not acting of her free will. This is disingenuous and insulting to foreign women, as well as to the reader, see e.g. http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/oct/03/research.women

The wider assertion that numerous prostitutes were forced sex slaves was never compatible with the calimed numbers of prostitutes and clients. At the extreme (Channel 4 News, 19 Nov. 2008) Harriet Harman asserted that there were 80000 prostitutes, 70% of them forced, seeing up to 30 punters per day. Even at 15 clients per day this would require 840,000 punters per day (0.7 x 80000 x 15) plus however many saw the remaining 16000 women. With 4-11% of the male population said to pay for sex this would require most to do so 2 or 3 times per week! Taking the Home Office (Tackling Demand) claim of 4000 sex slaves seeing the extreme 30 punters per day plus five punters per day for the remaining 76000 women would imply 500,000 paid sexual encounters daily ([4000 x 30] + [76000 x 5]), which remains absurdly high for a total of 3 million punters (taken as 10% of a adult male population. It was certainly incompatible with Tackling Demand’s assertion that turnover was £1 billion per annum, for it would imply that the price for sex was only a bit over a fiver (£1,000,000,000 / 500,000 / 365) when, in reality, half an hour in a massage parlour is ten times that, and an hour with an escort starts at around £120. Since these assertions appeared in the Home Office Tackling Demand report I followed up, asserting statistic incompetence…. and ultimately received a response that:

“…… the data were from different sources. It was not their intention for the different statistics to be used to inform further calculations and nor did they attempt to make any further calculation or draw any further conclusions in the report based on the statistics presented”

…a remarkable statement, which I take as an admission of statistical incompatibility.

More recently Nick Davies, writing for the Guardian newspaper has shown how –though a synergy between (i) Government ministers, (ii) pressure groups with an axe to grind and (iii) papers with an appetite for peddling moral panic – an identified total of 71 trafficked women was multiplied into 25000 (Denis McShane MP) or 64000 (80% x 80000 Fiona MacTaggart MP) ‘victims of trafficking’ http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/oct/20/trafficking-numbers-women-exaggerated

There are a few women who have been tricked into prostitution and trafficked. Those who trafficked them should be punished, as should anyone who knowingly has sex with them—– but all solid evidence suggests that they are a tiny fraction of all prostitutes. They therefore should not be the basis for legislation that affects all prostitutes and their clients.

Psychological damage. As noted in the Archbishop’s article several studies claim a high rate of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among prostitutes. If you go to the medical search engine http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez and type-in ‘prostitution’ and ‘PTSD,’ you get 20 ‘hits’, not all of them relevant. Many do appear to support this PTSD claim but, dig a little deeper and to find that most, including the original http://www.prostitutionresearch.com/prostitution_research/000021.html looked largely or entirely at streetwalkers, whilst a few looked at prostitutes in ‘rescue shelters’ or prison. What relevance does this have to Polish, Latvian and Czech prostitutes working in a London massage parlour, let alone as agency call girls? Street prostitution is a tiny fraction of the market, populated by the most desperate and disorganised prostitutes, most likely to be scarred by their experiences. They are not representative. Recruiting interviewees in rescue shelters or prison is even more ridiculous: it is like studying the institution of marriage by conducting interviews in a battered wives’ refuge or investigating the totality of athletics from the sole vantage of a sports injuries clinic. The results are guaranteed to be loaded.

It is striking too that the studies linking PTSD with prostitution appear in third-line journals and not in e.g. the Lancet, BMJ or New England Journal, also that the British Psychological Society (the main UK professional organisation – with which I have no connection) argues strongly against the prostitution clauses of the Policing and Crime Bill in its submission to the House of Commons Scrutiny Committee. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmpublic/policing/memos/ucm4602.htm

Age of entry to prostitution. I am unable to trace any article suggesting that the average age of entry into prostitution is 14 in Europe, as asserted in the Archbishop’s article, and suspect that, once again, we have data for one subset of prostitutes being extrapolated to the general case. Quotes like this often trace back to the US Department of Justice’s report that the average age for street children entering prostitution is 12-14: http://www.justice.gov/criminal/ceos/prostitution.html. No doubt this is true and tragic; however, once again, it is obviously based a particular and specific subset — you’d struggle to find a UK prostitute who ever was an American runaway— it’s uncommon even among US prostitutes.

Violence towards prostitutes. Prostitution is not a completely safe profession and most who enter it are offsetting the risks against the fact that they can make £100-200 per hour vs. £6 per hour in the safety of a shop or café. One may think their judgement wise or otherwise, but the financial reward to risk profile is better than that for enlisted squaddie or subaltern likely to be posted to Afghanistan or for the deep-sea trawlerman, and 65 murders in 18 years compare with 100 UK deaths per annum in horse-riding accidents. At bottom, though, we live (I hope) in a free society where people are allowed to take risks of their own volition. The role of the state surely should be to minimise those risks, yet the prostitute’s work is only likely to be made more dangerous by Clauses 13 and 20, a point recognised e.g. by the Royal College of Nursing: http://www.nursingtimes.net/whats-new-in-nursing/rcn-congress/rcn-motion-calls-for-new-legislation-for-sex-workers/5001470.article

I am a scientist and have based this letter on hard, dry evidence, as I would in writing any professional report. In researching the material I have been appalled by the deliberately biased samples and data manipulation used by those who would further criminalise prostitutes and their clients. If I extrapolated similarly in my own work I would be torn apart by my academic peers, and deservedly so. Having a strong moral belief does not justify the promulgation of bad science or social science. I realise, though –as a human being- that the case histories of individual trafficking victims will influence some of you more than all the dry statistics in the world. Tragic case histories, however unrepresentative of the totality of prostitution, have been widely circulated by organisations, notably the Poppy Project, with a fundamental objection to all professional sex. For balance I would urge you to read the chat among escorts and parlour girls on http://www.saafe.info, and the responses of prostitutes to Harriet Harman on http://www.punternet.com/forum/showthread.php?t=22529 or even the assortment of ladies’ blogs, summarised and linked on http://www.punterlink.com/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=23217&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=80. These writers are not the abused and broken women of the abolitionists’ mythology, upon whom these Clauses are ostensibly predicated.

Thank you for your time in reading this letter and the supportive evidence that I have linked. I hope I have made my case and that you will work to delete, amend or vote down these harmful clauses of the Policing and Crime Bill.

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This entry was posted on 1 November, 2009 by in Uncategorized.
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