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There are two articles in the Observer today which show how the police in London have so got it wrong in their policing of prostitution. Oh and a third article in London Local with yet more targeting of Romanian sex workers.
The first article is about the brutal stabbing of Mariana Popa in the London Borough of Redbridge. Her death being attributed to the police policy of harassing street workers and their clients, forcing Mariana to work unsafely without the support of other sexworkers on the beat. At the time of her death the police were running an operation called Clearlight.
Friends and campaigners are increasingly eager to blame an unlikely source for Popa’s death: the police. They argue that the Romanian’s death has exposed the consequences of traditional enforcement tactics and grimly articulates the need for a mature debate on society’s attitude towards prostitution.
Some are unequivocal that Clearlight contributed to Popa’s death. Georgina Perry of Open Doors, an NHS project working with sex workers in east London, said: “During the enforcement operation, women were running from police and hiding behind cars to avoid them. I have seen women taking their shoes off and leaving them on the pavement so that they can run away fast from the police.” She said that women did not even dare to carry condoms because officers could use them as evidence that the women were soliciting for sex.
Two Senior police officers Chris Armitt, the national police lead on prostitution in England and Wales, and Martin Hewitt, the deputy assistant commissioner of Scotland Yard have condemned the current laws and implementation.
Armitt, the assistant chief constable of Merseyside police, added that attempting to eradicate the trade was futile. “We are not going to stop prostitution. It goes back to Roman times and goes on in every country in the world.”
Merseyside police run the Merseyside model which treats violence against sex workers a hate crime. Reading this article on the tragic death of Popa, it seems the police in London could not care less about the welfare of a sex worker.
Perry alleges that police can be callous towards sex workers. “I have at least three reports of women trying to report crimes against them going into a police station and basically being told: ‘It’s your lookout, it’s your problem, what do you expect?’ From one perspective, however, Clearlight has worked. Hardly anyone is working the strip. Local police proudly reveal how earlier this month there were four consecutive days when no prostitutes were seen on Ilford Lane.
During the enforcement operation, women were running from police and hiding behind cars to avoid them. I have seen women taking their shoes off and leaving them on the pavement so that they can run away fast from the police.” She said that women did not even dare to carry condoms because officers could use them as evidence that the women were soliciting for sex
So these women have been moved on to some other area, less safe.
police accepting that the prostitutes have merely been displaced
The second police officer is from the Scotland Yard and he worries about the effect of brothel closures.
His concern is echoed by Martin Hewitt, the lead for adult sexual offences at the Association of Chief Police Officers, who said that prosecuting sex workers while using them as traditional sources of intelligence exposed inconsistencies in the strategy.
“We are policing a 21st-century style of prostitution with legislation that’s fairly dated. We have very contradictory actions. On the one hand we sit down with sex workers asking them to trust us and give us information. On the other hand we are doing enforcement actions. We are all working off outdated legislation,” he added.
Hewitt, the deputy assistant commissioner of Scotland Yard, also condemned some of the high-profile police operations such as brothel raids as superficial and offering little value other than as a media stunt.
I hope Martin Hewitt is well versed in the recent Soho walk-up closures on his patch which happened just before Christmas, and the continuing closure of brothels in places like Harrow where Romanian sex workers had their work place closed.
We will always take robust action to shut down these brothels to make Harrow the safest borough in London.
… except for sex workers, the supposedly most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in society.
There is an excellent write up by the actor Rupert Everett on the Soho Brothel closures, the walk-ups which the deputy assistant commissioner of Scotland Yard and the lead for adult sexual offences at the Association of Chief Police Officers seemingly condemns in his statement. So why are these brothel closures still occurring? Why were the police brutal to the vulnerable and disadvantaged people working in these walkups, and dragged them out on to the streets in their underwear to the full glare of a hostile media? Why despite their protestations of not being trafficked were they shipped off to rescue centers?
The ECP have collected a series of statements from these women. It makes disheartening reading, where we believe the police are there to protect us and the vulnerable, they are so very often not. Driven by their paymasters to persecute those who can’t defend themselves, and those who do not comply with society’s norms .
“Forty officers came into our building, approximately 20 went upstairs and 20 came into our flat. They were dressed in full riot gear, with dogs — everything but guns. They broke down our door even though they knew women were inside and even though we had already opened the door to let some police in.”
“I was taken out of the flat in my underwear. It was only because a neighbour from upstairs gave me a cardigan that I had anything on at all. Was this to humiliate me and make a show for the cameras? And I was freezing. Other women weren’t given a chance to collect their coats so they were outside in the cold.”
“I was handcuffed and pushed to the ground. The policeman shouted at me that if I didn’t tell him who owned the flat he would inform my mother back in Romania what I do. They only stopped when the maid intervened and told the police that I am an adult and that they have no right to tell my parents anything. But I am living in fear that they will tell my family.”
“I was asked if I was trafficked. I said no over and again. I told the police I didn’t want to go with them but they made me. They said I was going to be taken to a ‘place of safety’. I was held and questioned for a little while then they wanted to just put me out on the street in the middle of the night. I demanded they pay for a taxi for me to go home. Did they organise for all the girls they had taken to go home in a taxi?”
“Both me and the maid were handcuffed and held on the floor and she is in her 70s. What threat are we? They say I am a victim but treat me like a dangerous criminal.”
“The police went to my home and searched it. My daughter was there and they told my daughter that I work in Soho and what I do. This was vindictive.”
“They smashed up everything in our flat. We told them we had the key to the safe but they smashed it open all the same. They took £467 from me and refused to give me a receipt. They took over £1000 from another girl and told her that she will only get it back if she goes to court to prove it is hers. So the police get to keep our hard-earned money. Is that why they raided us because they wanted to steal from us?”
“The police came into our flat, separated the girl from the maid and then made us both leave the flat while they searched it. Is this legal? Don’t we have a right to see what they are doing when they search the place? What is to stop them from planting evidence?”
“I am Romanian and I was told by a policeman that I don’t have the right to be here. Yes I do. I am a self-employed sex worker and I have the right to live and work here.”
“I was arrested for receiving stolen goods. They showed me CCTV footage that wasn’t even me. I was held for 23 hours. The police were rude and threatening to me. They kept on trying to make me take a caution telling me that it was just a warning. They took advantage of the fact that my English isn’t perfect. I was confused, scared and tired, and so I agreed. I have since found out that a caution is the same as a conviction; that it has gone on my record. What chance now do I have of leaving prostitution and getting another job?”
“Two clients were in our flat when the police arrived. One was in the bedroom and one was waiting in the room outside. If the police really suspected that I was trafficked why didn’t they arrest the clients? I don’t want clients arrested but the police double standards are disgusting.”
“I was thrown out of my flat without even my coat. I have asked over and again to be allowed to go back into the flat to get my belongings. On three occasions the police made an arrangement and then didn’t keep it. I still don’t have my belongings back.”
“I’m doing this job because it is hard to get other work and I need money to pay my rent and live. I don’t want to stay in this job forever. I was lucky not to be there when the police raided but I am now terrified that they will come back and what I do for a living will come out.”
“I was attacked when I was working in this flat. I called the police and they took ages to come. It was the maid that helped me push the man out of the flat. Now I will NEVER call the police again no matter what happens. They aren’t interested in our safety.”
What can you do? My first reaction is nothing, the forces of reaction are like a titanic, and will take years to change course. But like the titanic, a small push in the right direction early, would save us from the almighty catastrophe which we are heading for.
You could start by.
Go on line and comment on Rupert Everett’s article here.
Met. Police Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Your MP — find them here: http://findyourmp.parliament.uk/.
Sign the Don’t Rip the Heart Out of Soho petition: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/dont-rip-the-heart-out-of-soho.html
While you are about it, mention that the Ugly Mugs Scheme, urgently needs additional funding. With the loss of credibility the present police have with sexworkers, this ia about the only way crimes can be reported.