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Sex Work (formerly called prostitution)

Sex Work (formerly called prostitution)

Sex workers worldwide have long campaigned for their work to be decriminalised, allowing them to enjoy the same basic freedoms and levels of safety that non-sex workers enjoy. Decriminalisation differs from legalisation in that it asks for specific laws regarding sex workers to be abolished, rather than legalisation which means that sex workers would apply for a license to work which would be controlled local councils. This would mean that sex workers could work in groups, without pimps in a brothel run by themselves, with obvious safety advantages to working singularly (which is currently legal).

The reason why legalisation is not preferred is because councils are likely to want to control the numbers of licensing to below the level of those wanting to work, hence an illegal black market with all its health and safety problems for sex workers will still exist. It also does not follow that stigma disappears when legalisation occurs, so many sex workers would rather not have their names available on a public list as they have their safety and the safety of their dependents/loved ones to think of.

The English Collective of Prostitutes' key facts on safety and legal rights

This information comes from The English Prostitute Collective website, see here for the original article.

Whatever you may think of prostitution, please look at the measures in this Bill from the point of view of women’s safety and of legal rights.  It has been claimed that ‘tackling the demand’ by criminalising men who buy sexual services will increase safety, and the spectre of trafficking has been used to stifle debate and hide the evidence that points to the contrary. 

1.      Distinguished organisations like the Royal College of Nursing and Women Against Rape oppose criminalisation on grounds of health and safety.  Their views are critical given that they are independent of government and their members deal with concrete situations involving health and safety.  The RCN voted to decriminalise by a staggering 93%.  Women Against Rape makes a clear distinction between “rape and consenting sex (whether in a relationship, casual or paid for)” and opposes the criminalisation of clients: http://www.womenagainstrape.net

2.      Over 82 organisations and prominent individuals have signed the Safety First Coalition petition against criminalisation.  List of names: http://www.prostitutescollective.net/PolicingandCrimeHowToOppose.htm

3.      An opinion poll carried out over the weekend found that 2/3 of the UK population support decriminalisation on grounds of safety.

4.      A thorough Guardian investigation has exposed the trafficking figures used by the government as grossly inflated and fabricated, much like the intelligence on WMD.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/oct/20/trafficking-numbers-women-exaggerated 

5.      Reliable academic research newly published confirms that the great majority of women (and men) involved in prostitution in the UK have not been trafficked.  http://www.londonmet.ac.uk/research-units/iset/projects/esrc-migrant-workers.cfm

6.      Sweden is a false analogy.  The example of Sweden has been widely used to claim that criminalising clients has reduced prostitution there and increased safety.  This is a false analogy since Sweden has criminalised clients but not sex workers, while the Policing and Crime Bill would further criminalise sex workers as well as clients.  There is evidence that in Sweden prostitution has been forced underground via the internet and other means, and that women are in more danger.  http://www.allwomencount.net/EWC%20Sex%20Workers/SwedenhasnNoMadeItSafer.htm

7.      Evidence from the US where both sex workers and clients are criminalised, has not even been considered.  It indicates high levels of violence against women.  Findings from New York (a city more like London than Stockholm in terms of size) show widespread violence against women, including from law enforcement.  80% of street workers and 46% of indoor workers experienced violence or threats; 27% of street workers and 14% of indoor workers at the hands of police.  http://www.urbanjustice.org/pdf/publications/RevolvingDoorExecSum.pdf and http://www.urbanjustice.org/pdf/publications/BehindDoorsExecSum.pdf

8.      Evidence from New Zealand which decriminalised six years ago with good results for women’s safety and no increase in prostitution, has been totally ignored.  http://www.justice.govt.nz/policy-and-consultation/legislation/prostitution-law-review-committee/publications/plrc-report/report-of-the-prostitution-law-review-committee-on-the-operation-of-the-prostitution-reform-act-2003

9.      Those who are pressing for criminalisation totally ignore the reality of women’s lives and the impoverishment and lack of choices that many are up against, especially during the recession.  They use flawed trafficking statistics to justify measures which target anyone involved in prostitution, whether or not there is force or coercion.  Given the lack of jobs and the low wages pushing so many people into poverty, and combined with the Welfare Reform Bill also going through parliament which abolishes Income Support, criminalisation will have a devastating effect, first of all on women and their families.  They would drive prostitution further underground and sex workers into even more danger. 

10.  Criminal records trap women in prostitution, making it harder to get other jobs. 

11.  As a result of widespread public opposition, the government was forced to amend the offence which criminalised clients but nothing has been said about the continuing raids, prosecutions and convictions against women who are working collectively and independently, and usually discreetly.  This shows the government is not really concerned about women’s safety.

The English Collective of Prostitutes' recommendations for changes in law and policy

This information comes from The English Prostitute Collective website.

In 2003, New Zealand decriminalized prostitution stating that “while not endorsing or morally sanctioning prostitution or its use” it aimed “to create a framework that: (a) safeguards the human rights of sex workers and protects them from exploitation; (b) promotes the welfare and occupational health and safety of sex workers; (c) is conducive to public health; (d) prohibits the use in prostitution of persons under 18 years of age.”

The law allows up to four people to work together from premises “where each of those sex workers retains control over his or her individual earnings”, and where more than four people works, it defines the manager as an “operator” with a requirement to apply for a licence from the local authority. Most importantly, it reinforces offences against compelling anyone into prostitution, stating a specific right for sex workers to refuse any client. And it gives powers to local authorities to inspect premises on health and safety grounds.

A comprehensive review process is built into the act specifying that the Review Committee should include representatives from: the ministries of justice, police, health, women, commerce and the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective. Five years after decriminalisation was introduced, the Review Committee reported favorably on the change citing evidence which showed that there had been no increase in prostitution, and that crucially sex workers are more able to report violence and leave prostitution. 1

The New Zealand Prostitution Reform Act is a good basis for any serious change in prostitution law and policy. It removes prostitution from the criminal law, allows people to work together collectively, and distinguishes between violence and consenting sex. And crucially, it has been shown to improve sex workers’ working conditions, while making it easier for those who want to get out, to do so. We list below our specific demands.

1. Give serious consideration to the New Zealand Prostitution Reform Act 2003 as a model for decriminalising prostitution in the UK.
2. Prevent women being trapped in prostitution by fines and criminal records. Repeal section 1, Street Offences Act 1959 “Loitering or soliciting for the purposes of prostitution.”
3. Allow women to work together more safely from premises. Repeal section 33, Sexual Offences Act 1956 “Keeping a brothel.”
4. Ensure that the law targets abuse and violence rather than women working consensually and collectively. Amend section 53, Sexual Offences Act 2003. Use the UN definition of trafficking to define “controlling prostitution for gain” thus adding “by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person.”2
http://www.justice.govt.nz/prostitution-law-review-committee/publications/plrc-report/index.html 2 http://www.uncjin.org/Documents/Conventions/dcatoc/final_documents_2/convention_%20traff_eng.pdf
5. Ensure that anti-trafficking laws target abuse and violence,and are not used to deport immigrant sex workers or the people we choose to associate with. Amend sections 57, 58, 59 Sexual Offences Act 2003: “Trafficking into, [within and out] of the UK for sexual exploitation” to add “by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person.”
6. Expunge all criminal records for prostitution offences that do not include force or coercion including loitering and soliciting, brothel-keeping and controlling – no force or coercion is needed under the current law so those convicted are primarily “managers”.
7. Recognise sex workers as workers with rights like other workers,including the right to safety, to a pension, to form and join trade unions.
8. Instruct the police and courts to prioritise safety by vigorously investigating and prosecuting rape, sexual assault, domestic and other violence. Non consenting sex is a serious violent crime. Criminalisation increases prostitute women’s vulnerability to violence: many will not report for fear of being dismissed or even arrested. We agree with Women Against Rape that officials who are negligent, discriminatory, obstructive or hostile to anyone reporting a violent crime should be sacked. As numerous cases of serial rape and murder made clear, no woman is safe if prostitute women aren’t safe.
9. Ensure free, accessible, non-discriminatory health services for all.TheRoyalCollege of Nursing supports decriminalisation on grounds of removing any obstacle to health service delivery.
10.Provide viable economic alternatives to prostitution for those who want to get out, including: refuge places and other targeted assistance for women to escape domestic violence; immediate weekly cash payments comparable to what was provided in Ipswich at the time of the murders to cover the transitional period until women are able to get benefits or another form of employment; housing priority for sex workers who are “vulnerable” because of homelessness, drug use, domestic or other violence; financial help to cover childcare costs; financial help to clear debt; immediate and appropriate drug rehabilitation services for those who want it.
11.Financial recognition for mothers and other carers, and pay equity for those who go out to waged work. Seventy percent of prostitute women are mothers. Mothers are the lowest paid workers. Financial support, and equal pay for work of equal value would help many, especially single mothers, stay out of prostitution.
12.Reinstate benefits to under 18 year olds, recognised by children’s organisations and charities as the single most important measure to prevent young people being forced into prostitution by poverty.
13.Ensure that sex workers and sex workers’ organisations are central to the process of changing the law.
14. Recognise and measure the contribution sex workers make to the survival of families, communities and the economy of every country by including this work in national accounts as the System of National Accounts recommends.