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I mentioned in my festive greeting that the UK government are engaged in a review of best practice with relation to sex work. They effectively are carrying our a review into local practices in the UK with the resolve to implement what they presume to be best practice nation wide.
This is not sadly at the moment a total review of the UK legal situation with regard to sex work and they have not yet given any indication that they intend to make changes to existing legislation. Although this is disappointing, the fact that they are carrying out this review is a small but significant step in the right direction.
The coalition government is still working with the intention of reducing demand, (which was the objective of the previous Labour administration which led them to adopt some very dangerous and repressive legislation) but this review indicates at least a willingness to listen. There is every reason to hope that this review will lead to an adoption of policies that are based on evidence rather than prejudice and ignorance and worst the emotionalised hysteria that was taken as fact by previous Labour ministers.
David Cameron the Prime Minister has indicated that he has not dismissed looking at decriminalisation and the Liberal party, who are part of the coalition, have traditionally been sympathetic toward decriminalisation. Nick Clegg the deputy prime minister has also still to present his much talked of freedom bill, so there is still hope of positive legislation in the future.
So what can we all do now?
The government has asked projects to:
1. To identify the range of models and approaches for responding to prostitution within England and Wales
2. To identify which approaches are the most effective in reducing levels of prostitution, reducing harmful incidents including instances of exploitation and crimes committed against , those involved in prostitution
3. To engage practitioners in reviewing effective practice, and to ensure all relevant organisations and individuals have an opportunity to contribute to the project and provide appropriate information, and that issues affecting particular groups, communities or sections of society are considered
4. To ensure the review reflects the multiplicity of approaches, and the different local contexts in which prostitution exists
5.To produce and publish an effective-practice guide in order to catalyse local areas who have not taken a multi agency strategic approach to prostitution, and encouraging other areas to evaluate, and where appropriate, improve their response to prostitution based on the guidance.
The government are also visiting 12 areas within the UK to speak first hand to projects.
Sex Workers (and interested parties) can:
Send written submissions. The only requirement is that those submissions express how local policy affects you as a sex worker. So if your local police authority for example has an excellent liaison officer who listens to your concerns and acts positively with out you having any fear of legal recriminations, then that is something positive which the government should hear about.
Similarly if you have a local project who is supportive, like projects in Liverpool, who positively report hate crimes and work closely with the local police to achieve convictions, then please write and explain to the government how such relationships helps you by making you feel safer.
When making a submission there is no reason why you cannot remind the government how the law as it is, makes you vulnerable.
An example. Here in the North East of England, despite an excellent police liaison officer many sex worker remain frightened to inform the police for fear of legal repercussions, such as arrest for brothel keeping. This is because the law prevents sex workers from working together for safety. This is a law enforced by the local police who actively discourage brothels. The result of this local policy of implementing vigorously national law is that sex workers are placed in great danger from violence, not from clients but from criminals who target sex workers knowing that they are unlikely to report crimes against them to the police.
There is also no reason why when sending your submission; that you may not point out that the very best review would be for the government to look again at New Zealand and at decriminalisation and to point out that speaking directly to sex workers is the only way to learn about the reality of our work and that is the best way to tackle criminal involvement and to alienate traffickers.
If you want further information about the review contact Alastair Noble at the Home Office on; Alastair.Noble@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk Also please make sumissions to this address.
This is our opportunity to be involved to to do something positive to push the government in the right direction. The government report will be published by Spring 2011 so we have only a few months. Please make any submissions as soon as possible.
Issues of violence and trafficking are the most sensitive within the UK context. Submissions from overseas examples of good practice would also be very welcome. Examples from Germany, Holland and of course New Zealand would be very positive in giving examples of good practice.