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Shelly Stoops has written this piece for Harlots detailing the report commissioned by the Mayors office (London) detailing the relationship if any between trafficking and prostitution in London with particular reference to the London Olympics. It makes for interesting reading.I have also included a report from the BBC news website“HERE”
and a you tube video where Andrew Boff talks about his report
Andrew Boff, a member of the London Assembly was recently tasked via the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime to conduct an independent study into trafficking and prostitution in London. This came about after he had asked a series of questions at Mayors Question time (like PMQ’s but sans Cameron and with Boris instead!). For sex workers, projects and allies in London, this has been a particularly emotive period in the run up to the Olympics as the populist press has been (along with others who really should know better) warning of the huge influx of trafficked women and girls (just women & girls-never men?) that gangs are just waiting to ship into London to be sexually exploited. Poor sports fans-not only are they ‘fanatical’ they are now all sex crazed it seems and cant travel to a sporting event without having their sexual needs met! Most fans I know (and I can only go on scousers at the footy or visitors to Aintree Races) are all too drunk after a match to think about sex, the only urge they have is for a kebab. The hoorays at Aintree may be drunk on tats rather than pints but they will be in the same queue at the takeaway.
The Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper waded into the debate when she said “Criminal gangs will use next year’s Games to force women and girls into the sex trade”(9/2/11) whilst the Home Secretary Theresa May stated that work was being done to ““respond quickly and appropriately to any potential increased risk of trafficking”.(18/7/11).
So where is the evidence? There has never been any evidence to suggest that large sporting events lead to an increase in trafficking of victims for sexual exploitation. In Athens in 2004 at the Summer Olympics, 20,000 sex workers were expected to arrive. None did and if we look at the number of people who were trafficked in the whole of Greece in 2004 added up to 181. In 2006 in Germany where the World Cup was being held, everyone was on high alert for the expected 40,000 ‘forced’ sex workers who would show up, none did. Of course, the crime of trafficking in human beings for any kind of exploitation is heinous and any victim of trafficking is one victim too many. But being a victim of trafficking is not the same as being a sex worker.
It is precisely because of the erroneous conflation of trafficking with sex work that sex workers in the UK are so gravely affected by the mythology and media hysteria and moral panics that all non UK sex workers must be trafficked. Sex workers have the right to travel to seek work just as has been done by people since time began. People moving around the UK following the seasons and following the work. For example, building the roads and railways, sowing and harvesting crops and sure, seeing a chance of making a bit more cash just like an ice cream van or fast food caravan at any major tourist event be it Glastonbury or the Hay festival. Sex work is business and the aim of any business person is to make money.
However, people acting on this misinformation fail to see the real picture and may actually be putting sex workers at risk of serious harm and by their actions, creating such a culture of fear, mistrust and suspicion that those people who may have information about trafficking will not come forward and share that information which could be vital to protecting people and bringing perpetrators to account.
Police and councils are putting sex workers at increased risk by the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of street sex workers and environmental changes such as road closures which both lead to displacement and isolation. It also makes it harder for outreach workers to give and take UGLY MUG’s information, condoms and other essential health and social interventions’. For indoor workers there have been high profile raids (sometimes accompanied by TV crews or journalists) which have resulted in those women being identified and being ‘outed’ to their families and friends. There is also criminalisation, detention and the very real threat of deportation. The police will also use these circumstances to explore the use of POCA (Proceeds’ of Crime Act 2002) where they can recover assets and money gained illegally. Leicestershire Constabulary actually has an EBay page where they sell any goods bought with money recovered by POCA, but I digress!
So in the quagmire of the hyperbole and conflation, this report was commissioned. Andrew Boff did his research well, listened to people who actually knew about the issue and produced a report that finally exposes what we knew already. Sex workers retain a ‘Silence on Violence’ because they are afraid. Heavy handed policing stops them coming forward and means that only 1% of brothel raids are successful in finding trafficking victims. The Met are heavily critiqued with Mr. Boff reporting that “The information I have gathered … demonstrates that police have been proactively raiding sex establishments without complaint nor significant intelligence that exploitation is taking place.” Clearly, that will not engender trust with the sex workers indoors.
He continued “By going in, in this way they are driving some of these women further into the shadows. There is evidence of increasing fear of the police amongst sex workers which has resulted in a reluctance to report crime.” He recommended that the police rethought their strategy on investigation trafficking and work on building better relationships with sex workers. Mr. Boff also points to the Merseyside Model of Good Practice between the Armistead Street Project and Merseyside Police and described it ‘as the best model he found’ He explained how having a solid professional working relationship with the police can both protect sex workers and increase the level and quality of intelligence given to Merseyside Police. Many offenders have been brought to justice and Ugly Mugs intelligence is treated with seriousness and urgency.
He further explored the ambiguities in relation to trafficking statistics, how Operations Pentameter One and Two failed to find a single person responsible for forcing a woman into prostitution and then he looked at Dr Nick Mai’s evidence based research with such victims and the distance between the rhetoric and truth. Mr. Boff ends his report with a list of 14 strategic recommendations, which if adopted could have a real meaningful effect on sex workers lives and their right to safety and protection.
The report sadly received very little media attention with only Diane Taylor in the Guardian writing about it. It seems that this time, when the truth is out there, the media are largely the ones being silent? I guess it’s not really exciting news for them as the silenced victims are sex workers…Once again I feel it is only when another tragedy occurs that we will again begin the discussions about legalisation, decriminalisation and sex work generally. I do however remain hopeful. The new Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Mr. Bernard Hogan-Howe was responsible for the foundations of the work on Merseyside when he was the Chief Constable of Merseyside Police and it is he who made the incredible and brave decision to label all crimes against sex workers as ‘Hate Crimes’, they are still the only police force in the world to do so… His assistant commissioner, Mr. Simon Byrne, is the ACPO lead for Prostitution & also was a Merseyside officer for many years and also was involved with the work. He has recently written the new ACPO strategy on Prostitution & Sexual Exploitation.
Hope springs eternal and let’s break the silence on Silence on Violence…
The full report can be found on the assembly’s website.