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There is something especially disturbing when a government creates legislation that legitimises corruption at the expense of justice. When a law deliberately alienates sectors of the community it should serve and encourages the police to persecute that sector for financial gain then something is deeply flawed with not only that government but with the society that allows that government to remain in office.
Since 2002 the act allowing for the seizure of assets of criminals has been in force. Ostensibly it was created to specifically deal with major criminal’s gangs and in particular those dealing in drugs. The objective was to send a message loud and clear that crime does not pay. It is however a piece of legislation that has also become the primary offence used to target sex workers.
This article in the independent illustrates the concerns raised by sex workers and those groups who had the well fare of sex workers at heart when they warned the government what would happen if the proposals in the 2009 policing and crime bill became law which it did on the 12th of October 2009.
Before the 2009 policing and crime bill became law there had already been a dramatic increase over the last few years in prosecutions against sex workers working together from a variety of premises for safety. Worryingly if has often been brothels or agencies who having legitimately called upon the police either to report crimes or to ask for protection from crimes being committed against them that have instead found them selves arrested and prosecuted. The case against Diana Jones in Cardiff in 2008 is an example. http://tinyurl.com/yknrax9 Diana Jones a parlour owner called the police to report a suspected victim of trafficking and was then asked by the police to give the victim shelter and accommodation which she did. Having done as she was asked by the police she was later prosecuted for brothel keeping. She avoided a prison sentence but her home and assets were seized under the 2002 proceeds of crime act. The 2002 proceeds of crime act allowed the police to keep twenty five percent of assets seized. This act was altered in the recent 2009 crime and policing bill to allow the police to seize and keep fifty percent of the cash assets seized in raids on sex workers premises as well as twenty five percent of all seized assets allowed in the original act. The remaining assets are shared between other government agencies.
Both the IUSW and the ECP have drawn attention to the inherent injustice of such raids in the past and pointed out that the legislation gives an incentive for the police to target sex workers as easy targets and self financing prosecutions. Despite concerns raised the government proceeded to introduce a number of new laws in the 2009 policing and crime bill that alienated sex workers. The new bill not only altered the proceeds of crime act in favour of the police but also introduced new specific laws aimed at street workers including powers of detention for failure of street sex workers to attend rehabilitation courses. There was also granted more powers for the police to arrest and convict kerb crawlers caught on a first offence. The legislation also introduced for the first time the criminalisation of clients for using the services of s sex workers forced or coerced either in this country or overseas on a strict liability offence regardless of the client knowing that the sex worker was working unwillingly or not. This change in the law was made despite grave concerns expressed by the legal profession at the potential erosion of fundamental rights enshrined for centuries in British law. The police were also given powers to close premises suspected of being used as a brothel with out the customary proof being gained. This particular authority to target brothels together with the financial incentives in the proceeds of crime act is especially disturbing for sex workers. Various groups warned that the 2009 policing and crime bill would leave sex workers more vulnerable. Fear of prosecution by the police would dissuade sex workers from reporting crimes that they were aware of or that were being committed against them,
The claim made by the government that they wanted to protect sex workers or as Allan Campbell claimed of the legislation “That it was not intended to be an attack on the sex industry” has as so many warned been proved a total sham. Time will tell how the legislation will be used in the various regions of the UK but as the Independent article illustrates it is obvious now that the government once again has betrayed sex workers and left us at the mercy of criminals and of the police who should be there to protect every citizen regardless of their choices. I wonder how women ministers such as Harriet Harman and Fiona MacTaggart who were especially vocal in their support of the changes introduced in the policing and crime bill can sleep at night knowing the danger they have placed other women and men in simply for having made decisions about their labour that obviously makes prudish and elitist Labour MPs feel a little queasy.
I suspect that they sleep just fine.