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IF you could persuade the government to make three changes to the laws that affect sex workers what would those three things be. This was a question posed to me by a journalist recently. As activists we are pre conditioned to respond that only decriminalisation would be acceptable. When I thought about it afterwards however I realised that although decriminalisation may be the ideal in reality the government could make small changes in the law that would make a significant and dramatic difference to my life as a sex worker. Three small but important changes in the law could overnight improve the relationship between the police and the majority of UK sex workers.
My choices were the following.
1 POCA (Proceeds of crime act)changed so only included proven cases of trafficking.
2 recognition of consent in controlling for gain legislation. Only prosecution where force, trafficking etc involved
3. Change brothel keeping legislation to allow up to three sex workers and maid to work together for safety
The reason I made these choices were for the following reasons:
The proceeds of crime act and especially changes made to that act by the previous Labour government in the policing and crime bill 2009 rewards the police financially for targeting sex workers. The indiscriminate nature of this law allows the police to seize up to fifty percent of the assets of sex workers. This is understood by almost everyone but the government to be unjust.
Sex workers working together very obviously makes them less vulnerable and easier to contact by support and outreach organisations. It is better for the health and safety of sex workers and also easier for the police themselves to assess sex workers and intervene if any criminal activities are taking place such as trafficking, underage etc etc. The POCA as it exists however does not distinguish between good and bad brothels or agencies. The brothel keeping laws allow the police to target sex workers whenever they work together and the POCA encourages the police to target sex workers for financial gain. It would make more sense for the police to direct limited resources to targeting brothels where underage, trafficking etc is taking place. Changing the POCA act would allow the government to direct more effectively scarce public resources while remaining faithful to its public commitment to stop trafficking. It is a change that would be welcomed by the great mass of sex workers as well as the public.
My second wish would be for the government to recognise consent within the controlling for gain legislation. Presently sex workers are not recognised to have autonomy or to be capable of choice. Forced to work alone sex workers are not allowed to employ a third party to represent them. Anyone who answers a telephone and takes an appointment is guilty of controlling even if they are paid to do so by a sex worker. It is absurd and iniquitous legislation that infantalises sex workers and forces them into working alone which leaves them vulnerable. The public recognise this absurdity in the law and repeatedly in polls have called for the government to change this dangerous policy. Europe recognises a sex workers right to consent but the UK government does not. The government again deliberately creates a barrier between the police and sex workers with obviously dangerous consequences. It could be argued that every murdered sex worker is indirectly the result of government policy. It is a law that displays an OPEN disregard of human rights legislation. The government could easily change this law to target real criminals and allow sex workers to work together for safety and to have the protection of the law rather than to live in fear of the law.
Anti brothel keeping legislation in the UK is dangerous and in practise its enforcement is often piecemeal. In England and Wales sex workers are legal but only if they work alone and in isolation. The brothel keeping laws in conjunction with POCA and controlling for gain legislation create a barrier between the police and sex workers that prevents good relations developing which would be beneficial in the battle against trafficking, exploitation and coercion. The law on brothel keeping is a clear infringement of human rights legislation because it forces otherwise legal individuals to work alone, often in dangerous situations. The law deliberately makes sex workers vulnerable. A small tweaking of present legislation to allow up to three sex workers and a maid to work together for safety, companionship and support would improve the lives of sex workers dramatically and for the better.
People work from home in all kinds of professions, sex workers are no different. This would not require licencing or any major changes other than the recognition that two or three sex workers can entertain in the security and privacy of their homes provided they are not causing a public nuisance. Easy and simple and common sense.
I understand that my wish list is not perfect and that many, especially on the left of sex worker rights politics will strongly object because they do not specifically mention migrant workers or street workers. The vast majority of sex workers in the UK however do not fall into these categories. I know from speaking to sex workers who are not involved in the rights movement that these changes would be very welcome.
In the unlikelihood of a phone call tomorrow morning from the home secretary to tell me that decriminalisation was not on the agenda but they could be persuaded to go for some reforms then these would be my suggestions and the reasons why.
What would yours be?