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This is part of my personal submission to the home office in refference to the review of best practice presently underway. The submission was eight pages long. This is the important part which I hope will be read.
The reality is that sex workers in the absence of supportive police forces in many areas have created their own safe practices despite legislation that hobbles these efforts at every turn.
Sex workers have had no choice but to develop survival structures on their own.
HOW DOES IT WORK
Local escort agencies, brothels and independents share (regional) information on clients who have been abusive and report suspicious behaviour or criminal activity. These are called ugly mug or dodgy client schemes.
UGLY MUG schemes operate locally run by sex workers and have done so for many years with no support from the police or government.
Street workers also when possible share information. Noting down car registrations or using mobile phone cameras to take photographs of cars or registrations are common practice.
This is the type of safe practice that is disrupted by police action against clients (kerb crawling legislation) or against street workers.
Police action with the intention of disrupting sex work results in the effectiveness of good, safe practices being negated. The result is that street workers become easy targets for criminals looking for an easy victim. The police through enforcing government legislation unwittingly make sex workers easy victims.
LOCAL out reach projects who support sex workers in maintaining and distributing information with regard to ugly mugs are invaluable especially for new sex workers and isolated sex workers. Again for street workers regular contact with support services not only offers them protection through sharing information but also allows them to access social help (issues around homelessness, drugs etc) and exit programmes if they wish to avail themselves of those services.
A National Ugly Mug scheme would be an invaluable asset in sharing information provided sex workers can access and share that information confidentially and with out fear of prosecution by the police.
Violence against sex workers is rarely reported because of fear of the police.
Good practice would be if a supportive Police force were to treat violence against sex workers as HATE CRIME and therefore prioritise the prosecution of perpetrators of violence. Agencies and brothels must be able to report violence against the people they represent also with out fear of prosecution.
THE ROLE OF (sex worker) MANAGEMENTS
Managements and/or sex work groups/co operatives are an essential safety structure for sex workers . The Majority of sex workers work through a third party. They do so for support, protection and discretion. Targeting managements of sex workers removes structures that are safe and supportive; again making sex workers vulnerable to exploitation by criminals.
Present legislation that criminalises sex work by denying the most basic right of free assembly and the ability to work through a third party or even in small groups for support,consequently placing sex workers in danger through enforcing isolation is a clear breach of the most basic principles enshrined within human rights legislation. The Government of the United Kingdom is a signatory to the International convention on human rights and yet denies its most vulnerable citizens the most basic protection of human rights legislation.
Sex workers who want to protect themselves will therefore in some way break the law if they want to be safe in their work. The government makes sex workers criminals simply for protecting themselves.
The mental health risks associated with forced isolation are numerous and well documented. Apart from increasing the risk of physical assault and blackmail and coercion; isolation combined with stigma and fear of discovery and/or criminal prosecution increases apprehension, feelings of loneliness and isolation with the subsequent associated mental health issues. Present government policy therefore rather than sex work itself is responsible for many of the mental health issues associated with sex work.
Good practice would be to allow sex workers to access police/social support with out fear of prosecution and with confidentiality guaranteed.
PIECEMEAL IMPLEMENTATION OF LEGISLATION.
Police authorities operate different policies regionally. There is no national implementation of government policy on prostitution. The result is confusion and unfairness. In one area brothels can operate but independents and agencies are targeted. In other areas it is brothels which are targeted while in yet other areas all safe venues for sex workers are considered fair game for prosecution by the police. There is often to the sex worker little logic in police policy. Despite this variance on implementation every police area within the UK has sex workers and a variety of ways in which sex work is carried out. The only difference is how the police treat/react/respond to sex workers under their jurisdiction.
Here in Northumberland (for example) escort agencies are semi tolerated but brothels are not. We are lucky in that we now have a good police liaison officer who listens to managements and sex workers. A good liaison officer is one who is helpful in dealing with issues and concerns and someone who can be trusted. If sex workers cannot trust the police they will not report crimes to the police.
The biggest problem for sex workers is a lack of trust. Because there is no national policy all sex workers fear that at any time the police may decide to prosecute an agent/brothel or two or more sex workers working together for brothel keeping or controlling for gain. Sex workers live in a constant state of anxiety which increases their sense of isolation which in turn makes them more vulnerable.
IT NEED NOT BE THIS WAY.
Liverpool provides an example where the police have adopted a policy that identifies violence against sex workers as hate crime. The result is that sex workers can approach the police with confidence that assaults against them will be taken seriously. The result has been a dramatic increase in prosecutions and a decline in assaults.
If the government was serious about dealing with violence against women (and men) in sex work then adopting nationally the Liverpool strategy would be an urgent priority along side supporting a national Ugly Mug Scheme.
Government policy has been to deter prostitution and to tackle the demand for prostitution. This policy pursued for several decades has failed. No matter what deterrents are applied sex work will continue. Even in Sweden which claims that criminalising clients is now the solution the Swedish government admits that sex work advertising has remained level and perhaps even has increased on the internet. They also have not provided any independently verified figures to substantiate their claims that sex work has decreased. What has happened is that sex work has become invisible.
That invisibility makes sex workers vulnerable.
If this government is serious about protecting women and protecting sex workers then it has to fundamentally re-evaluate current policy. The only country in the world that has placed safety of women (and men) in sex work above the subjectivity of moral policy is New Zealand which decriminalised sex work over ten years ago with great success.
In a time of financial austerity throwing public money at policies that are being questioned by the police themselves is against the public interest and out of step with the overwhelming majority of public opinion. Assistant Chief Constable Simon Byrne
himself has suggested that the government look at New Zealand as an example of best practice.
WHAT DO THE PUBLIC WANT AS BEST PRACTICE
Opinion poll after opinion poll clearly ask the government to put the safety of sex workers as priority and to decriminalise sex work. The public understand that criminalising consensual sexual activity between adults is wrong and dangerous. The public may have concerns over where sex workers work, they may not like the idea of a brothel in their street, but they know that present legislation is responsible for sex workers, women, who are daughters and mothers, being forced to work in dangerous isolation. This is not acceptable.
The public do want the government to prioritise specific areas however. Instead of laws that criminalise an entire group of people the public want the government to prioritise specific areas of abuse within sex work. Trafficking, child trafficking specifically and coercive practices. These concerns are also shared by sex workers. Involving the industry in dealing with these issues is essential. Not involving the industry is to deny the police access to those people who are best placed to report abuse.
EVIDENCE based legislation is needed and not legislation that is simplistically moralistic, based on ideological theories of social manipulation or prejudiced assumptions. Sex workers have suffered the tragic consequences of such policies for generations. It has not worked, it will never work. Sex workers and the clients of sex workers are not criminals and should not be treated as such.
It is important that any future legislation is based not only upon evidence gathered in a clear sober scientific fashion but after consultation with sex workers. This is our industry. Sex workers are the people who suffer the consequences of badly drafted legislation. Our lives are put at risk by legislation that is made with no reference to clear sober scientific evidence or to the reality of sex workers experiences.
As a sex worker activist I listen to sex workers and I am happy to meet and discuss how government legislation really affects sex workers and I am happy to present alternative ideas that will prioritise safety within sex work.
The sex industry exists and will continue to exist. The problem the government has is whither it cares enough about its citizens, some of whom happen to be sex workers, to be proactive in reducing violence or if pursuing policy that ignores evidence and which historically has failed is more important than protecting lives.
I am happy to meet to discuss issues around sex work at any time.
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A CONVERSATION WITH A SEX WORKER.