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I think we have to ask why the police fail to see that there is a connection between their enforcement of bad laws and an increase in violent attacks upon sex workers. As we have seen in Bradford and Ipswich and other towns the murder of sex workers seems sadly to be an inevitable outcome when vulnerable people are targeted by the police because of ill thought out legislation. Police enforcement disperses street sex workers forcing them to work alone and in more isolated and dangerous areas. Sex workers fearful of arrest both for themselves and their clients make quick and often lethal decisions. Because of ill conceived law and its enforcement street sex workers in particular become obvious and easy targets for those with violent and murderous intentions.
Clients are now the fashionable target for police operations. Clients however are not the problem. To suggest they are is the most simplistic and naive political posturing. The problem is the law that forces the most vulnerable and desperate people to work in dangerous circumstances. Fearful of violent criminals and of the law many street workers are caught in a trap.
Anti sex worker organisations will claim that selling sex is the problem. It is not.
The selling of sex itself is not the issue and neither is the purchase of sex but rather the manner in which, in this case street sex; is being sold and the reason for which it is being sold which is all to often to feed drug habits.
Criminalising both the sex worker and the client will not stop the transactions from taking place and neither will decriminalising the sex worker while criminalising the client. Getting rid of all the bad and unjust laws that prevent sex workers from organising their work safely would however be the most effective step we as a society can take toward tackling violence within the sex industry. It is simply common sense. If the government were to encourage local authorities to work with sex workers and with local support and out reach groups to establish safe areas where street sex workers could work in greater safety, areas where they could obtain the help they needed and where they could begin to establish a trusting relationship with the police, one that is supportive to both them and their clients; then things would change for the better.
Anti sex work groups will again argue that murders do occur even within so called managed zones. This may be true but the authorities job should be to try and prevent tragedy and not to encourage it. The sad reality is that because of police enforcement of bad laws sex workers are placed in greater danger and sex workers are murdered.
If we are serious about preventing tragedies like those in Bradford occurring again and again then the government must decriminalise sex work.
In the following article from the Morning Star on line the police in Bradford admit to taking robust action against sex workers and their clients. It is a policy that as we have seen over and over again leads to tragedy.
History has proven that criminalising sex work DOES NOT WORK.
Is it not time the government tried something new, something that has been proven to work. Decriminalisation in New Zealand is a documented success.
Decriminalisation has not over night stopped all the abuses within the sex industry, that will take time and patience and understanding. The New Zealand experience has shown however that positive change is possible and that the relationship between the police, local communities and sex workers can improve for the benefit of everyone.
New Zealand has shown that placing the safety and health of sex workers first above moralistic and dangerous political posturing is not only the sensible thing to do but also the right thing for a just and tolerant society to do.
Our government must now do the same. Decriminalisation, often confused with legalisation, is I firmly believe what the British public want. I hope the politicians are listening and that they do not continue to simply reinvent or to continue to enforce abusive and discriminatory laws that have failed and always will fail. I hope that these deaths in Bradford are not yet another tragedy in a long line of preventable tragedies. I hope politicians do the right thing this time and listen to sex workers, listen to out reach workers, listen to academics and listen to the the British public.
Bradford killings ‘show safety is top priority’
Friday 28 May 2010
by Paddy McGuffin
A union representing sex workers has called for safety to be prioritised in the wake of the murder of three women in Bradford.
Suspected multiple murderer Stephen Griffiths appeared in both magistrates’ and crown court in Bradford yesterday charged with the murders of Suzanne Blamires, Susan Rushworth and Shelley Armitage.
All three women were heroin addicts and sex workers.
The killings have shocked the Bradford public, its local representatives and police.
Speaking to the Star yesterday, Bradford City Council Labour leader Ian Greenwood said:”First of all we should all pause and give thought to the families and friends of these women who were the innocent victims of truly awful crimes.
“These were women with hopes, aspirations and dreams. That has been taken away from them by a murderous individual.
“The vast majority of these women are poor people who are dependent on alcohol and or hard drugs. These are poor women trying to feed their habit.
“Those who can’t afford the habit are getting forced into the sex trade. This doesn’t mean that drug and alcohol addiction does not occur in more affluent areas – it does.”
Bradford South Police Superintendent Angela Williams said: “It’s easy to forget that every woman involved in prostitution didn’t start out that way. They all have families, personal stories and often personal tragedies which have led them to where they are today.
“Whilst we accept that these women are among the more vulnerable members of our society, we fully accept that it is an illegal activity and one on which we do take robust action – both towards the women and also the men who travel into the area to solicit them.
“But we also recognise that the women involved in prostitution need help and support if they are to make a fresh start.”
But the GMB sex workers’ branch said the killings had highlighted once more “the human tragedy that results from laws which discount sex workers’ safety.”
A spokeswoman said: “Sex workers pay the price most directly for this failure, at worst in tragedies like that in Bradford, but communities also suffer the consequences of damaging and futile law enforcement.”