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For sex workers the world has over recent years become a more hostile and frightening place. In the UK and USA and many other countries sex work is already criminalised to varying degrees and there is growing pressure, especially in Europe, to criminalise clients, and to extend existing laws that already deny consent to sell sex. The justification is a manufactured fear about human trafficking and sexual slavery which reflects in its angst the early nineteenth century “white slave trade” hysteria which led to the enactment of many of the repressive sex laws that exist today. There is an excellent study on that hysteria and its consequences in the USA at reason.com “Sex Slaves And The Surveillance State.”

Like before, this modern reinvention is spearheaded by religionists, authoritarians, and so called feminists. Together this at first seemingly odd alliance have colluded in not only reinventing an age old moral panic about human sexuality but have provided a vehicle that reflects populist fears about migration of labour, foreigners, sexual liberty, and especially women’s sexual freedom and autonomy. These old fears have been reinvented to accommodate modern contexts of gender equality and to satisfy an audience of media and politicians who like to present themselves as caring, liberal and progressive. It is however a duplicitous use of modern language to justify a rush to create ever more severe laws to limit, especially women’s sexual autonomy. It is patriarchy reinvented for a modern audience and which manifests in a powerful and very lucrative rescue industry whose leaders even claim the mantle of “Wilberforce,” the famous campaigner against slavery. These claims display not only an arrogance, but illustrate how easily existing prejudice and stigma about sex work can be manipulated so that oppression can be sold to politicians and to the media as progressive social policy when in fact it is the reverse.

Behind most hysterias there is usually a truth lurking. In this case the modern anxiety about sex work and about “human trafficking,” reflects a genuine concern about the status of marginalised peoples, often migrant workers, often existing within illegal working environments. These are very real issues, passionately voiced by sex workers themselves alongside concerns about human rights abuses within existing sex work legislation, about labour rights, about social exclusion and about stigma. Politicians and real liberals and real progressives should have heard these voices and worked with sex workers to find ways to address these issues positively. Instead we have seen a so called rescue industry, funded by governments and religious bodies, evolve and use their substantial funding and powerful connections to agitate for further criminalisation, stigma, alienation, and exclusion of sex workers.

Women’s groups, notably the “European Women’s” have openly called for the elimination of sex work from Europe, effectively endorsing social cleansing. The ideals of human rights that once drove progressive social policy now lies in tatters as wealthy and influential NGOs call for ever more oppressive anti sex work legislation, most notably arguing that the denial of consent is a useful tool in “rescuing” prostituted woman.

We seem to have forgotten that as a democracy we are governed by consent. In becoming an adult we are taught the importance of consent, and that having our own consent recognised and respected is an essential reminder and marker of our autonomy, of adulthood, even of citizenship. Despite this, consent is a right legally denied to sex workers with dangerous consequences. Sex workers cannot consent to engage and work through a third party for safety, cannot consent to share a work space for safety and company, cannot engage a third party to organise travel or accommodation, cannot cross borders, cannot consent to exchange sex for money. The result is the forced isolation of sex workers making them easy targets for often brutal criminals who feel empowered by laws that isolate and deny sex workers the protection of the law, or even basic safety provisions. Because the majority of sex workers are women, recognition of the right to consent is especially emotive, not only for safety, but because it re establishes the historical context of women judged as second class citizens, inferior to men, and not worthy of rights.

The law justifies itself by arguing that the sex worker may be coerced and therefore not free to consent, or too afraid of her abusers to tell the truth of her sexual slavery. This justification conveniently allows for the punishment of all sex workers and relieves the state of the dull responsibility of proving coercion. Those in favour of denying the right of consent implicitly justify that belief by asserting that even if a sex worker is not coerced they may either be mentally ill or have been “raped” so often that they no longer know good behaviour from bad.

Laws controlling prostitution and the thinking behind them them assert the states power over the female body and reaffirm the inferiority of women within society. The fact that much of the new legislation is being forced by women is also nothing new. Reinventing patriarchy through modern notions of gender equality has simply reinforced the role of privileged women as arbitrators of other women’s sexual behaviour. Once again it is women who enforce patriarchy in order to protect their own status by enforcing through the brutality of law their ideals of normal, moral, good behaviour, which not surprisingly means controlling other women’s sexual behaviour.

Denial of consent to sex for sex workers, because they receive payment, is a powerful assertion of the states power over the bodies of all women. Women especially therefore should feel an obligation to protect the rights of sex workers, not because they agree with the choice to sell sex, but because by protecting sex workers rights they also defend their own sexual freedom.

Posted from the Feminist Times

Independent escort Laura Lee and the English Collective of Prostitutes respond to RadFemUK’s piece on the European Parliament’s vote in favour of adopting the Nordic Model, which criminalises the purchase of sex.

Laura Lee

The decision by the European Parliament to vote in favour of Mary Honeyball’s paper is a very dark day for human rights and the rights of those of us often shunted to one side: sex workers. Throughout the whole “consultation process”, Ms Honeyball did not listen to the voices of sex workers – surely crucial to a law which will affect our lives so dramatically.

At first glance, it’s hard to see how Ms Honeyball could have reached the conclusions she did, flying in the face of such noted advocates of decriminalisation as the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, and the World Health Organisation to name but two.

From the very beginning, Ms Honeyball refused to recognise that she was conflating prostitution and trafficking, two very separate entities. She claimed that “80% of sex workers are trafficked”, which is hugely erroneous and not helpful to any debate which must be based on hard evidence.

The 80% figure comes from The Big Brothel report, which has been widely debunked by many academics – not least because the method of data collection was, at best, haphazard. Telephoning various brothels to enquire as to the ethnicity of the ladies available is not proof of trafficking, and a distinction must be made between migrant sex workers and those who have been trafficked without their consent.

In a 2009 study, Dr Nic Mai surveyed 100 migrant sex workers and found that only 6% felt they had been “tricked or coerced” into the industry – a far cry from 80%. He went on to say: “The research evidence strongly suggests that current attempts to curb trafficking and exploitation by criminalising clients and closing down commercial sex establishments will not be effective because, as a result, the sex industry will be pushed further underground and people working in it will be further marginalised and vulnerable to exploitation.

“This would discourage both migrants and UK citizens working in the sex industry, as well as clients, from co-operating with the police and sex work support projects in the fight against actual cases of trafficking and exploitation.”

Amnesty International too have recognised that sex workers’ rights are human rights, saying that they “support the decriminalisation of prostitution on the basis that prohibition creates a criminal market that stigmatises and alienates sex workers.”

But aside from the evidence as cited above (and there’s lots more), Ms Honeyball made the massive error of only listening to those who would agree with her, not real sex workers on the front line.

As a sex worker with twenty years experience, I was told I am not representative of the industry. I responded by saying that I have worked in what can reasonably be described as a chicken coop right up to a five star suite, so to refer to me as being in some sort of ivory tower is wrong.

It’s also not helpful when an expert on real sex work (as opposed to the academia behind it) offers an insight and is immediately dismissed. “We know better than you,” is no basis for any law and what will result is the compromise of the safety of many sex workers. Our safety will be in danger until sex work is decriminalised and we can work together; that’s fact.

Rather, Ms Honeyball chose to listen to those who benefit from funding and book sales by their opposition to my choice to work in the sex industry – and it is a choice. The “survivors” used by abolitionists to strengthen their case can wheel out tale after tale of horror and destitution, if it pays them to do so.

I’m not suggesting for one moment that some women don’t have desperate backgrounds or circumstances which lead them into a job they despise, not at all. But they are the women who will suffer the most if the Swedish model is implemented. “We must legislate for the majority,” declared Ms Honeyball. That’s the crux of this debate: I AM the majority.

With the recent deaths of Maria Duque-Tunjano and Mariana Popa, both killed whilst working alone and without any support, it falls to me to ask Ms Honeyball: How many more need to die?

Laura Lee is an independent escort based in Glasgow with twenty years experience in the sex industry. She is a passionate sex workers’ rights advocate and campaigner and an award winning blogger. Mother of one, cat lover and terrible cook. Follow her: @GlasgaeLauraLee

The English Collective of Prostitutes:

ECP

Criminalising clients will not stop prostitution, nor will it stop the criminalisation of women.  But it will make it more dangerous and stigmatising for sex workers.

Faced with no benefits, or only the lowest-waged jobs, many women sell sexual services. Are we less degraded when we have to skip meals, beg or stay with a violent partner to keep a roof over our heads?  Those who rage against prostitution have no regard for mothers struggling to feed their families.

Proposals to increase criminalisation are led by an unholy alliance of feminist politicians and homophobic fundamentalist Christians. In the UK, the All-Party Parliamentary Group at the forefront of these proposals chose as its secretariat the homophobic charity CARE.

Claims that prostitution has reduced in Sweden are untrue.* Are women driven underground safer or better paid? Welfare has been cut so that “a quarter of single mothers in Sweden now live in poverty, compared to 10% seven years ago.”

Existing laws already criminalise those who coerce anyone into the sex industry.  Why extend it to consenting sex?  False claims about trafficking are used to justify these proposals. But trafficking law is primarily used to arrest and deport immigrant women; it has done little or nothing to protect victims of trafficking.

Considering that the police more often hound rather than protect sex workers, and their appalling record on investigating rape in general, why call for more police powers? Where was the feminist outrage when 250 police, under the guise of freeing trafficking victims, broke down doors in Soho, central London last December, and dragged handcuffed women in their underwear on to the streets?

New Zealand decriminalised in 2003 with verifiable improvements in sex workers safety Canada’s Supreme Court threw out the prostitution laws for violating women’s right to safety. Why are these examples being ignored?

The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) is a network of women who work or have worked in different areas of the sex industry campaigning for decriminalisation and safety. The ECP provides daily support to sex workers on a range of issues including fighting legal cases which challenge discrimination and establish prostitute women’s right to protection against violence.

Contact them: ecp@prostitutescollective.net, www.prostitutescollective.net, 020 7482 2496.

*According to The National Board of Health and Welfare 2008: “It is… difficult to discern any clear trend of development: has the extent of prostitution increased or decreased? We cannot give any unambiguous answer to that question.”

Photo of ECP: msmornington

 

Some very good new, a victory, working flat in Soho opens after appeal against closure order.

Posted from The English Collective of Prostitutes website

Two sex workers’ flats in Soho, central London were yesterday re-opened by a judge at Isleworth Crown Court. Judge JW Kingston rejected police evidence that women working in walk-up flats in Brewer Street were being controlled or incited into prostitution for gain. He overturned the closure order and directed that the flat could reopen.   

Judge Kingston’s decision brought for the first time some common sense to legal cases, which have been rumbling through the courts since mass raids at the beginning of December closed 18 flats. He ruled that: “the furthest the evidence goes is to show that the Appellants used the first and second floor flats for prostitution by arrangement with other sex workers at mutually convenient and agreed times. That does not constitute control within the meaning of Section 53 [of the Sexual Offences Act 2003].” 

Ms Lori Bora who has worked at the premises for five years and who gave evidence in court, commented:

“I am very pleased that justice was served. The police should be ashamed of themselves to accuse us of being controlled when they know very well we are not. Nobody tells me when and how long to work. To the judge I say that he is welcome to come down and see us girls in Soho at any time . . . for a cup of tea. Good luck to the other girls who are in court on Monday [24th Feb] trying to reopen their flat.”

Niki Adams, English Collective of Prostitutes, who gave evidence in support of the two women, commented:

 “These closures should never have come to court. The police misled the public and claimed that they were needed to prevent rape and trafficking. No victims of trafficking were found; instead the police threw women out of the relative safety of their flats. This decision is timely as women have been without an income since the beginning of December. Many are in debt and some were about to be made homeless.”

In her evidence to the court Ms Adams highlighted the issue of safety “Soho is one of the safest places for women to work as they have a maid or receptionist with them, CCTV to monitor clients and the solid support of the local community.”

She drew attention to the recent murders of two sex workers – Marianna Popa was working on the street and Maria Duque-Tunjano was working indoors, but alone.

Most of the women who were evicted in Soho are mothers and grandmothers; some have been part of the Soho community for decades. Local people are alarmed that the closures are to make way for the gentrification of historic Soho, what actor Rupert Everett described as “a land-grab, facilitated by the police.

The Soho vicar, Rev’d Buckley, has expressed concern that the “safety and well-being of a section of our community has been jeopardised by this operation”.

 Sign our petition Don’t rip the heart out of Soho.

Sign our open letter for decriminalisation.

 Please donate towards our costs to fight these cases. Donate on our website here.

 

Demand the closure order against Greek St flat in Soho be withdrawn.

BACKGROUND ON SOHO CLOSURE ORDERS

1.     These closures came about from mass police raids on Soho flats on 4 December 2013. 200 officers in riot gear with dogs (accompanied by the media who published identifiable photos), broke down doors, handcuffed women and dragged at least one woman out in her underwear.  Closure Notices were issued against 18 flats and Closure Orders were then confirmed by a district judge at Hammersmith Magistrates Court in subsequent court cases.

 2.     Closure Orders (Sexual Offences Act 2003, amended by the Policing and Crime Act 2009) give the police and courts powers to close premises for up to six months if police can show that “activities related to” prostitution offences are being committed namely “controlling for gain” and “causing and inciting prostitution”.

3.     Each of the court cases followed a similar pattern. Women gave evidence that they were working independently and consensually and were not controlled.  One woman explained: “Another sex worker told me about the address and that it was a good job . . . I decided to work as a prostitute . . . I wanted a better life and to support my two sons”.

4.     Police claimed in court that women were controlled because they were “required to work certain days of the week, between certain times and charge a specified amount of money for each service”. No “controller” was named or identified.

5.     In every case heard by District Judge Susan Williams and Judge Goodwin the police evidence was rubber stamped no matter how ludicrous. Williams specified that she found sex workers’ evidence “truthful”, admitted that “no evidence has been put before me of force and coercion” and acknowledged that a maid “is considered essential for safety”. But she went on to rule that the “lure of gain and the hope of a better life” for women who were “desperate to earn some money” amounted to “control” and “incitement”. Why is women’s poverty and the determination to get out of it being used to justify the closure of safer premises? How is this different from any other job? Aren’t all workers “incited” to work by the “lure of gain and the hope for a better life”? Should they be doing it for free? Once again sex workers are being discriminated against.

6.     Westminster Council backed the raids despite Cllr. Nickie Aiken’s claims that: “Our policy is that if a brothel is just providing a sex service, we just turn a blind eye because we think it is safer for the women and safer for the residents and other businesses around.” 

7.     Met police commander Alison Newcomb misled the press by presenting the raids as necessary to “close brothels where we have evidence of very serious crimes happening, including rape and human trafficking.” But in NONE of the Closure Order cases has there been any evidence of rape or trafficking. Newcomb later admitted that “no specific number of women were suspected of being trafficked.” Some immigrant women were held for hours despite protesting they were not trafficked. The Met Police just got European Union funding to tackle trafficking – were the raids staged to justify this money and get more?

8.     The case raised crucial issues. If police claims that women were controlled were allowed to stand, despite no evidence of force and coercion or even a named “operator” actively “directing” activities, then any sex worker flat anywhere can be closed, in fact any flat – if a friend helps a sex worker design a website, that can be taken as evidence of control and the flat closed. Thirty seven premises were recently closed in Newham. Who will be safe then?

9.     Senior police officers recently acknowledged that: “operations to tackle the trade are ‘counterproductive’ and likely to put the lives of women at risk”.http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jan/19/woman-killed-prostitute-police-blame

10. The prostitution laws which give police enormous powers to criminalise sex workers have resulted in abuses of power particularly against women working on the street. One woman described the discrimination and degradation she faces.

“The police wait outside my house to catch me when I leave. It doesn’t matter how I’m dressed, who I’m with, where I’m going, they say I’m loitering. When they stop me they jeer at me, and make jokes at my expense, often sexually explicit jokes. When they arrest me I’m strip searched and they sometimes leave the door open so the male officers can see in. All this is to humiliate me.”

 11. A motion by MEP Mary Honeyball to criminalise the clients of sex workers is due to be voted on in the European Parliament on 27th February. At a time of economic crisis when poverty among women and children is rising throughout Europe and more women, particularly mothers, are working in the sex industry to survive, how can women who call themselves feminists and claim to be concerned about women’s welfare justify prioritising an initiative against prostitution. False claims about trafficking are being used to justify this crackdown. Criminalising clients will not stop prostitution, nor will it stop the criminalisation of women.  But it will make more dangerous and stigmatising for those of us who work as prostitutes.

12.New Zealand decriminalised 11 years ago, with verifiable improvements in sex workers health and welfare. Canada’s Supreme Court just ruled that criminalisation breached sex workers’ human rights.

ICRSE Press Release re Mary Honeyball MEP’s report on sex work

470 NGOS AND 45 RESEARCHERS DEMAND MEMBERS OF EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT REJECT MARY HONEYBALL’S REPORT.

PRESS RELEASE

More than 470 civil society organisations and 45 researchers tell the European Parliament to reject a report on prostitution by Mary Honeyball, MEP for London, which promotes the criminalisation of clients of sex workers, in an upcoming plenary session on February 27th.

” An incredible number of 470 NGOs and civil society organisations as well as 45 academics and researchers have signed letters to the members of the European Parliament asking them to reject a report by MEP Mary Honeyball, which asks EU Member States to consider the criminalisation of the clients of sex workers.

The letter from NGOs, initiated by the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe, a network representing 59 organisations in Europe and Central Asia, denounces the conflation of sex work and trafficking, the disregard for sex workers’ health and safety and the lack of evidence on which the report is based.

Luca Stevenson, Coordinator of the ICRSE commented: “The Swedish Model of criminalisation of clients is not only ineffective in reducing prostitution and trafficking, it is also dangerous for sex workers. It increases stigma which is the root cause of violence against us. It is a failed policy denounced by all sex workers’ organisations and many women’s, LGBT and migrants’ organisations, as well as many UN bodies.”

The signatories include sex workers’ rights organisations but also many women’s rights groups such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation, a network of 40 members in Europe, and the National Council of German Women’s Organisations, which represents 50 women’s organisations in Germany.

Mona Küppers, vice chairwoman of the latter, commented: “We think that the systematic criminalisation of sex buyers will not bring the change supporters of this resolution are hoping for. Quite the opposite: the experience in Sweden shows that prostitution does not just simply disappear after introducing the criminalisation of buyers – activities just simply shift underground. This cannot be the solution – particularly not for the women working in the sex trade.”
Marija Tosheva, Advocacy officer of SWAN, the Sex Workers Rights Advocacy Network of Central Eastern Europe and Central Asia explains: “The report fails to represent different realities of sex workers across Europe. It reinforces the stereotypes that all women from Eastern Europe are trafficked in Western Europe, thus labelling all of them as victims, denying their agency and excluding them from the ongoing debate and decision making processes. Some sex workers do migrate searching for better job opportunities, and some get vulnerable to violence and exploitation, but labelling all sex workers as voiceless victims and criminalizing any aspect of sex work is just distracting the focus from pragmatic toward moralistic and repressive solutions.”
A large number of HIV organisations, including the European Aids Treatment Group and or Aids Action Group also endorsed the letter. Mary Honeyball barely mentions
HIV in her report, apparently unaware that sex workers are a key population in the HIV response. The report quotes the World Health Organisation’s definition of sexual health but ironically ignores that the WHO has positioned itself against the “Swedish Model” as it negatively impacts the lives of sex workers and limits their access to condoms and other measures to prevent HIV.

Another document drafted and signed by more than 40 academics and researchers consists of of a letter to MEPs and a counter report analysing the lack and misrepresentation of evidence in Mary Honeyball’s report. The letter states, “We are concerned that this report is not of an acceptable standard on which to base a vote that would have such a serious, and potentially dangerous, impact on already marginalised populations.” It continues, “The report by Ms Honeyball fails to address the problems and harms that can surround sex work and instead produces biased, inaccurate and disproven data. We believe that policies should be based on sound evidence and thus hope that you will vote against the motion to criminalise sex workers’ clients.”

The counter-report noticed that, amongst other astounding errors, Mary Honeyball completely misinterpreted a joint report commissioned by the City of Amsterdam and the Dutch Ministry of Justice, embarrassingly “mistaking” data on coffee shops for data on brothels.

The combined over 500 signatories of these letters urge the MEPs to consider the evidence and reject Mary Honeyball’s report on the 27th of February. “

Contact. Luca Stevenson for ICRSE: info@sexworkeurope.org

Chief Constable Matt Baggottdownload (1)
Police Service of Northern Ireland
Police Headquarters
Brooklyn
65 Knock Road
Belfast
BT5 6LE

comsec1@psni.pnn.police.uk

CC The Department of Justice for Northern Ireland

17 February 2014

Policing of Indoor Adult Sex Work in Northern Ireland

Dear Mr Baggott,

We are writing to you regards the policing of indoor adult sex work in Northern Ireland.

Sex work has traditionally been a low priority for UK police forces, especially so in regions like Northern Ireland, where there is little if any outdoor sex work taking place, rather almost all sex work is indoor sex work, carried on discreetly, away from public view.

However in recent years there has been an extremely high level of public concern about sex trafficking into prostitution in Northern Ireland and this has led to increased police attention on indoor sex work.

The PSNI’s recent submission to the Justice Committee examining the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill acknowledged that the majority of persons selling sex are independent and not trafficked or controlled by organised crime groups. We agree with this assessment.

With regard to persons being trafficked into or exploited in sex work, to quote UNAIDS Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work (2012), which we believe applies well to the current Northern Irish situation, “Sex workers themselves are often best placed to know who is being trafficked into commercial sex and by whom, and are particularly motivated to work to stop such odious practices.” We’d like to see sex workers more included in anti-trafficking efforts. Currently, whilst major resources are being directed at anti-trafficking work, and there are campaigns to include a wide range of people in this work, sex workers are largely being overlooked here. We believe sex workers could greatly assist the PSNI in combatting sex trafficking into prostitution.

At present, not all sex workers feel able to engage with police, many have valid concerns about doing so. But we believe the PSNI could create an environment where sex workers don’t have to fear engaging with police.

We are also concerned that the current anti-trafficking agenda is increasing discrimination against sex workers, and putting sex workers, who are already at risk of violence and abuse, at even greater risk.

We would like the PSNI to adopt a new strategy for policing indoor sex work, which encompasses prioritising sex worker safety and building good relations with the sex work community, so as together we can work against trafficking and exploitation, sex workers can conduct their work as safely as possible, and abusive persons who pose a risk to sex workers and the wider community can be more effectively dealt with.

Our recommendations for improved and consistent policing of indoor sex work in Northern Ireland are attached with this letter as Proposed PSNI Indoor Adult Sex Work Policing Guidelines.

We would appreciate it if the PSNI would consider our recommendations in regard to the policing of indoor adult sex work in Northern Ireland. We note that the 2011 Department of Justice, Research paper investigating the issues for women in Northern Ireland involved in prostitution and exploring best practice elsewhere, stated that at that time the PSNI were developing policies to ensure a consistent police response to prostitution and human trafficking in Northern Ireland, but we are unsure of the status of this work and the content of any existing PSNI policies on sex work and sex trafficking.

Yours sincerely,

Lucy Smith, UglyMugs.ie (Safe IQ Ltd.)
Laura Lee, International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW)

These proposals were drawn up in consultation with sex workers who are resident in Northern Ireland or regularly visit Northern Ireland, several of whom wish to co-sign this letter: Kate, Amy, Kelly, Sophie, Alyssa, Stella, Ms Smith, Ana and Rachel.

The proposals are also supported by:
Nine (Former UK sex work project worker)
Ruth Jacobs, Writer, Broadcaster & Campaigner
Wendy Lyon, Feminist Ire

Proposed PSNI Indoor Adult Sex Work Policing Guidelines

In these recommendations we frequently cite the latest Home Office and Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (ACPO) good practice guidelines. These are contained in the Home Office’s A Review of Effective Practice in Responding to Prostitution (2011) and ACPO’s ACPO Strategy & Supporting Operational Guidance for Policing Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation (2011).

Prioritise Sex Worker Safety

Police forces have considerable discretion in deciding when and how to enforce laws. Home Office guidance is clear, police forces should recognise that persons involved in prostitution are vulnerable to harm, and take this into account when determining how they apply prostitution legislation. The Home Office is also clear, “The police’s responsibility for public protection means that stopping attacks on those involved in prostitution, and catching and convicting those responsible, is a core part of reducing harm from prostitution.” We would like the PSNI to make the safety of people selling sex a priority in sex work policing.

Public Message on Crime Against Sex Workers

We recommend the PSNI send out a strong public message that crimes against sex workers will not be tolerated. Currently some offenders target sex workers, because they believe there will not be consequences to their offending if the victim is a sex worker. In recent years it has increasingly become the case that such beliefs are held, due to the framing in the media of all sex work as rape, and of sex workers as persons who have no choices or rights or capacity to consent. A clear message from the PSNI that crimes against sex workers are unacceptable and will be treated extremely seriously would discourage crime against sex workers. Without this message offenders are more likely to think they can get away with crimes against sex workers, leading to further targeting of sex workers. Sending out this message reduces the risk of sex workers being the victims of crime. This message would also assure sex workers that the PSNI do take crimes against them seriously, which helps encouraging reporting of crime by sex worker victims.

Taking Crime Against Sex Workers Seriously / Hate Crime

Since September 2009 UglyMugs.ie has recorded 472 Northern Irish incidents, 173 of which would be crimes. This breaks down as 79 threatening or abusive communications, 62 incidents of in-person threatening or abusive behaviour, 15 of assault, 9 of sexual assault, 17 of robbery, 6 of impersonating police, 3 of stalking, 9 of exploitation, 4 of blackmail, 14 of fraud and 10 of criminal damage (Those figures don’t add up to a total of 173, as some incidents would involve multiple categories of crime.) Of these 173 crimes, in only 8 (4.6%) cases did the sex worker indicate he/she had or was planning to report the crime to the PSNI.

This clearly shows that crime against sex workers is under-reported in Northern Ireland. It is a hidden problem where victims do not receive adequate support and perpetrators can continue to commit crimes without coming to police attention. It is recommended that the PSNI encourages the reporting of crimes by sex workers and ensures such crimes are taken seriously by officers and that sex workers receive the support they need as victims. We know, from talking to sex workers who have reported crimes to the PSNI, experiences of reporting crime to the PSNI are already generally positive, but we want to ensure good practice is standard, that sex workers are not sometimes faced with poor and outdated attitudes from officers, like perceiving crime as an ‘occupational hazard’ for sex workers or equating rape to not being paid.

In 2006, Merseyside Police designated crimes against sex workers as hate crimes. We would recommend this as the optimal means of ensuring the PSNI response to crimes against sex workers is best practice. This strategy, now known as the ‘Merseyside Model’, was formed under the leadership of Bernard Hogan-Howe, now Metropolitan Police Commissioner. Implementation of it led to unprecedented increases in the reporting of crimes by sex workers and the number of criminals being convicted. In 2010 the overall conviction rate in Merseyside for crimes against sex workers was 84%, with a 67% conviction rate for rape (the national average conviction rate for rape is 6.5%).

ACPO defines hate crimes and incidents as any crime or incident where the perpetrator’s prejudice against an identifiable group of people is a factor in determining who is victimised. All hate crimes are hate incidents, but some hate incidents may not constitute a criminal offence and are therefore recorded as a hate incident only. The PSNI currently records 6 types of hate crime and incidents, the 5 categories recorded by all UK forces – disability related, homophobic, racist, religious and transphobic – plus sectarian. It is an option for any police service to add additional categories, as the PSNI has done in the case of sectarian.

Treating crimes against sex workers as hate crimes acknowledges that sex workers are a minority who are disproportionately targeted by criminals and as a group their victimisation fits within a number of the established definitions of hate crime.

Merseyside is now widely considered to be the lead nationally in terms of addressing violence against sex workers. Adoption of the Merseyside Model is recommended by ACPO. It is also recommended in the 2012 Silence on Violence report commissioned by the Mayor of London and undertaken by Andrew Boff AM, and the 2013 report Violence Faced by Sex Workers in Westminster by the Westminster Sex Worker Task Group.

It is clear from UglyMugs.ie reports that sex workers are a stigmatised and socially marginalised group who face abuse from perpetrators motivated by prejudice and hostility towards sex workers and targeting by criminals who view sex workers as ‘easy targets’, unlikely to report crimes committed against them or be believed by police if they did. In some UglyMugs.ie reports sex workers describe offenders who have directly made statements like “You can’t report me to the police! You’re a whore!”

Adding sex worker targeted hate crime to the types of hate crime recorded by the PSNI would bring this crime into the existing PSNI hate crime structure, where various procedures have to be adhered to, and victims could be assured of the professional and supportive response that they need. It would also mean sex worker targeted hate crimes and incidents would be recorded for the first time, this data would be publicly available, and potentially a thematic review could be conducted by the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

The Merseyside Model is widely supported, not only by sex workers and sex worker organisations, but also by many anti sex work and anti sex trafficking organisations, who also believe persons selling sex need the hate crime police approach to crimes committed against them as part of a victim centred police response.

Offence Prioritisation

Although working as a sex worker is not illegal, some activities related to sex work are criminalised. Notably indoor sex workers must work alone in order to work legally. If two or more sex workers work together, both or all sex workers can be considered to be brothel keeping, which is illegal. The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) has frequently highlighted that sometimes when sex workers report crimes, police focus their attention on the sex worker(s) and any crimes related to sex work they may be committing, such as not working alone, rather than the original crime against the sex worker(s) that the sex worker(s) reported. As a result of this situation sex workers often feel that they cannot report crime to the police.

Police officers may feel they are in an impossible position here, that if a sex worker reports a crime, and in doing so reveals criminality, the police are compelled by the law to act on this.

However police are allowed, in certain situations, to use discretion on what to prioritise when witnessing multiple crimes simultaneously.

Most forces have policies in place for prioritising victims of serious crime above the victim’s own more minor misdemeanours in certain situations, for example in rape cases. It is this prioritisation that needs to occur in regard to crimes against sex workers, to remove the barrier to reporting for sex workers that is fear that the police may seek to prosecute them for an offence. This has been done successfully in Merseyside.

If sex workers felt more able to report crime to the PSNI, this would improve the PSNI’s ability to identify and prosecute perpetrators of abuse against sex workers.

Liaison Officers

Some police forces have sex work liaison officers.

It is generally the case that victims of hate crime have access to a liaison officer. In Merseyside, where sex worker targeted hate crime is recognised by police, they have two police sex work liaison officers who have this role as part of their wider duties, and these officers work closely with the sex work community to encourage sex workers to report crimes and act as a link between the sex work community and police.

The provision of sex work liaison officers within the PSNI is considered essential, regardless of whether the PSNI formally includes sex worker targeted hate crime within the existing PSNI hate crime structure.

Currently persons selling sex have no contact point within the PSNI to turn to for help. Their only option is to walk into a police station or phone general police numbers, something which most people selling sex find an intimidating prospect, to the point that many will not do it in any circumstances, and those who are prepared to do it often find they do not get the help they need anyway, as the problem they are reporting is not understood by the officers they speak to, who lack experience of sex work policing.

In order for the PSNI to effectively tackle crime against sex workers and sex trafficking into prostitution, people selling sex must have easy access to a liaison officer who is friendly, approachable, understands their situations and can provide advice and support to them.

At the moment all victims of hate crime in Northern Ireland have access to a PSNI Hate Incident Minority Liaison Officer (HIMLO) and liaison officers are also appointed in regard to other communities or issues that are not hate crime related. The PSNI should create sex work liaison officers. This could be an additional role for selected officers, alongside the officer’s wider duties. It is however important that sex work liaison officers do not also have an enforcement role in this specific area.

PSNI sex work liaison officers would increase contact between sex workers and the police, improve safety and reduce abuse of sex workers, and create and maintain the relationships of trust between the PSNI and sex workers which are essential for receiving intelligence regarding sex trafficking and other serious crimes.

Ugly Mug Schemes

Ugly mug schemes aim to improve the safety of sex workers and reduce crimes committed against them, by bringing sex workers together to share information with each other about potential dangers.

Two ugly mug schemes cover Northern Ireland, UglyMugs.ie and the UKNSWP National Ugly Mugs (NUM).

UglyMugs.ie does not routinely share information with the PSNI, but does so sometimes on an individual case basis. If the reporting sex worker agrees, NUM automatically shares details of offenders with the Serious Crime Analysis Section (SCAS) and the North West Regional Intelligence Unit (NWRIU) who then disseminate the information to intelligence contacts in police services in England and Wales.

It is recommended the PSNI provides a means for ugly mug schemes to share information with the PSNI. Currently Northern Irish sex workers reporting crime to ugly mug schemes do not have the ability to anonymously share intelligence with the PSNI about violent offenders, exploitative abusers and other dangers they encounter in the course of their work. The PSNI should want to be aware of ugly mug incidents in order to help them effectively police abuse of sex workers and sex trafficking.

Home Office guidance outlines how local ugly mug schemes supported by police are a valuable intelligence source, and the effective use of local ugly mugs schemes can therefore be an effective part of policing prostitution. Further, ugly mug schemes can act as an intermediary between police and sex workers and encourage formal reporting of crimes to the police. Police can also use ugly mug schemes to communicate to sex workers both general messages to encourage police engagement, like that crimes committed against sex workers will be taken seriously, and specific messages about potential dangers the PSNI may be aware of.

Anonymity for Witnesses

Lack of anonymity for sex worker witnesses is a major deterrent to sex workers engaging with the criminal justice system. All victims of certain sexual offences, including rape, are entitled to anonymity. But there is no entitlement to anonymity for sex workers who are the victims of non-sexual offences or witnesses in criminal cases. Many sex workers greatly fear being ‘outed’ as a prostitute in the media and to family, friends and the wider public. If the PSNI could recognise that being publicly named as a prostitute can be uniquely damaging, and apply for special measures for sex worker witnesses, to prevent them being publicly named as a prostitute, this would make it easier for sex workers to engage with the criminal justice system.

Searches

Police searches – unannounced forced entry visits – are a frightening experience for sex workers. A large group of police officers breaking down your door and coming into your home/workplace shouting would likely be a frightening experience for anyone. Many sex workers are migrants or have experience of working in different countries. They may have had previous bad experiences with police or authorities. They may have been a victim of crime in the past. It is not uncommon for criminals who target sex workers to pose as police. Factors such as these can make searches especially frightening for sex workers.

Whilst there are circumstances where searches are necessary, it is recommended the PSNI recognises that searches are frightening for sex workers and discourage sex workers from engaging with police. Unnecessary searches should be avoided. Necessary searches should be as unintrusive as possible and all reasonable steps should be taken to show respect for the sex workers involved and try to minimise the distress caused.

Sex workers should be shown the same respect as would be shown to any other person in respect of their bodily privacy. Sometimes police may arrive upon sex workers in a state of undress. It is good practice for police to bring blankets with them, which they can supply sex workers, to wrap themselves in, while in police presence, and sex workers should be given adequate opportunity to dress as soon as possible. Whilst we are not aware of any recent complaints from sex workers in Northern Ireland regards respect of their bodily privacy by police, sex workers in other areas of the UK, like Scotland, have reported experiencing disrespect for their bodily privacy from police recently.

The media should never be invited along on searches, to photograph sex workers and/or potential sex trafficking victims. This practice is universally detested by persons selling sex. Faces being blurred does not mean persons are not identifiable or make the practice acceptable. It is frightening enough to be caught up in a police search without then being subjected to the violation of journalists photographing your distress against your will.

There is a very poor relationship between people selling sex and elements of the media who regularly seek to ‘expose’ them. Being identified in the media as a sex worker can devastate a person’s life. Many sex workers live in fear of the media. The PSNI should not be providing the media with opportunities to photograph sex workers and/or potential victims of sex trafficking. Regards the latter, a precedent here is that since 1976 victims of sexual offences have been automatically entitled to lifelong anonymity with it being a criminal offence for the media to reveal their identity.

It should also be noted that the media often continue to use photos long after the events a series of photos may relate to, to illustrate various general prostitution or sex trafficking related stories.

Evictions

Due to discrimination sex workers frequently face great difficulties with accommodation. Landlords and/or hotel staff exploiting sex workers is not uncommon. All sorts of people exploiting sex workers, under threat that they will get them evicted via reporting them to the police or their landlord/hotel, is not uncommon.

Sex worker evictions undermine sex worker safety. In the short-term sex workers can find themselves in the dangerous situation of being suddenly homeless. Moreover, sex workers find themselves pushed out of places they feel safe working in, into less safe working environments, making them more vulnerable.

Sex worker evictions are often the result of police actions. Northern Irish sex workers report that police sometimes contact hotels and letting agents / landlords to inform them that a sex worker or sex workers are staying in their accommodation. This invariably results in eviction for the sex worker(s). Police searches of premises can lead to sex worker evictions. Even ‘friendly’ police visits, where the police have in no way sought to cause any issues, can lead to sex worker evictions.

The police do have a responsibility to investigate complaints about anti-social behaviour related to an indoor sex work venue, but Home Office and ACPO guidance is repeatedly clear that police must prioritise the safety of sex workers when handling sex work related issues, and evictions clearly undermine sex worker safety.

Therefore the PSNI should view sex workers evictions as undesirable and adopt a policy of not seeking or contributing to sex worker evictions unnecessarily. Many police forces have brothel closure guidelines and policies. ACPO recommends a risk assessment is conducted before police seek to ‘close down’ any sex work establishment. Where sex workers are evicted, police have to consider the safety of the sex workers, who may have nowhere else to go and find themselves in a dangerous situation as a result of the eviction.

Arrests / Prosecutions

Arrests and prosecutions of sex workers have increased in recent years. A recent FOI request (PSNI Request Number F-2014-00002) shows that in 2012 arrests for prostitution offences were up 238% from 2007 figures, similarly prosecutions for prostitution related offences were up 188%, and 11 persons (all women) were convicted of prostitution related offences (compared to none in 2007).

Working indoors as a sex worker is legal provided the sex worker works alone. But indoor sex workers that do not work alone are criminalised under brothel laws.

That sex workers who work together for safety are criminalised is a problematic situation for police.

Enforcement action against sex workers for not working alone clearly undermines sex worker safety.

A number of Canada’s prostitution laws have recently been struck down by their Supreme Court for infringing the constitutional right of sex workers to security. The criminalisation of sex workers not working alone under UK law arguably violates their security rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The PSNI is required by the Human Rights Act 1998 to uphold and protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals that are enshrined in the ECHR and the Northern Ireland Policing Board has a statutory duty, under the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, to monitor the performance of the PSNI in complying with the Human Rights Acts.

Arrests and prosecutions of sex workers for not working alone occur in an inconsistent manner across the UK.

Many UK police forces state at different times that they have differing policies regarding the policing of sex work. Writing in Silence on Violence (2012), Andrew Boff AM said that in London the Metropolitan Police unit responsible for policing sex work and sex trafficking, SCD9, has stated they focus on forced prostitution only and do not intentionally target brothels that do not involve trafficked persons, further they focus specifically on those trafficked according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) indicators or trafficking clearly linked to an organised criminal network, rather than targeting trafficking under the much broader UK legal definition of sex trafficking, which does not require force, coercion or deception. However there are sex workers in London who would argue this is not the case, the Metropolitan Police are not in reality restricting policing of sex work to only focusing on sex trafficking into prostitution.

Changes in public attitudes and community complaints often have an impact on how sex work is policed. Frequently there is not clarity in the way the law is applied.

We would recommend in regard to brothel laws that the PSNI adopts a policy of distinguishing between those involved in the management of brothels and sex workers working in brothels, and the latter should not be arrested or prosecuted, because to do so undermines sex worker safety and decreases the likelihood of sex workers reaching out to police when a victim of crime or if they are aware of serious criminality.

For sex workers arrest and prosecution can lead to consequences such as a criminal record, a jail sentence, being publicly labelled as a prostitute, losing custody of children and/or deportation. It is questionable whether there is any public appetite remaining in Northern Ireland for such harsh treatment of persons selling sex, given that even most of those who want further criminalisation of sex work, only want criminalisation of buyers of sex and argue that those who sell sex should not be law enforcement targets.

Police Misconduct

Sex workers in Northern Ireland do sometimes report to UglyMugs.ie that they have experienced poor police behaviour, for example offensive and insulting language used to address them. Historically and globally sex workers have frequently been subjected to a wide range of abuses from corrupt and criminal police officers, for example extortion of sexual acts in exchange for avoiding arrest.

A code of conduct for officers of all ranks dealing with sex workers would be useful. Sex workers, like everyone else, should receive good service from the PSNI. Officers who do not treat sex workers professionally should face disciplinary action and criminal proceedings in cases where criminal abuse has taken place. The PSNI should be committed to treating sex workers professionally. Details of how sex workers can complain, if officers behave unprofessionally, should be easily available.

Serious Crime

Serious crime related to sex work should be policed rigorously. The majority of sex workers want the police to do this. In fact a common sex worker complaint about policing of sex work at times is that the police are not taking action against serious crime related to sex work. Improved relations between sex workers and police would result in sex workers being more able to talk to police when they are aware of serious crime.

Trafficking 

Trafficking is presumed to be a current PSNI policing priority.

One of the clear advantages of the PSNI prioritising the safety of sex workers is that sex workers are far more likely to alert the police when they are aware of trafficking, because they will not fear personal repercussions for doing so as a result of the trust and understanding built up with the police.

Clearly if people are being sex trafficked into prostitution, then sex workers are uniquely well placed to have the most useful knowledge of that activity.

The PSNI should actively encourage sex workers to report trafficking.

Home Office guidance provides a case study of the Greater Manchester Police Sexual Crime Unit, a police unit which focusses on the welfare of sex workers, and has found this has aided them in combatting sex trafficking. They say the assistance of people involved in prostitution has been vitally important in bringing trafficking prosecutions and the unit has found that many sex workers genuinely care about the welfare of trafficked persons and are quite willing to give statements or intelligence if they feel it will help the victim.

A change of priority from enforcement to protection in regard to sex workers also means sex trafficking victims are less likely to be treated as criminals. Victims of sex trafficking are also more likely to be identified.

People generally understand sex trafficking as involving force, deception or coercion, as per the Palermo Protocol definition. However the UK legal definition of sex trafficking does not require force, deception or coercion and therefore includes the movement of all sex workers, including willing sex workers.

Rather than persons who have been tricked into being a sex worker against their will, it is more likely that victims of sex trafficking under the UK legal definition are persons who choose to be sex workers. Their conditions of work may be exploitative, but they may only comprehend this gradually. Such persons are however unlikely to ever seek help from police or provide police with intelligence about trafficking if there is a hostile relationship between police and sex workers.

Friendly policing towards sex workers is therefore a vital component of policing sex trafficking. A person who has had a negative experience of the PSNI, like being caught up in a police search, is unlikely to go on to engage with the PSNI, whereas a person who received a friendly visit from the PSNI and was advised they could contact the PSNI if they ever needed help is far more likely to go on to engage with the PSNI in the future.

Specialist Unit

Some UK police forces have specialist sex work units. For example, in London, SCD9, Human Exploitation and Organised Crime, is a central unit of the Metropolitan Police that has overall responsibility for the policing of on and off street prostitution within its remit, although it also has other responsibilities.

The PSNI should consider whether it would be better if policing in relation to sex work was the responsibility of a specialist unit. With the current approach of no specialist unit, there is inconsistency in how sex work is policed, and many officers dealing with sex workers have little understanding or knowledge of sex work.

Belfast Harbour Police

The Belfast Harbour Police come in contact with sex workers as the small Port of Belfast area they are responsible for policing is an area where a number of indoor sex workers are based. Several sex workers have expressed to UglyMugs.ie that they’ve had an interaction with the Belfast Harbour Police where they would consider their treatment to have been poor. It would appear that the Belfast Harbour Police approach sex work somewhat differently to the PSNI and there is an inconsistency in the policing of sex work in Belfast as a result of this.

Various crimes or incidents that occur within the Belfast Harbour Police area are designated the responsibility of the PSNI. It is recommended that the PSNI and Belfast Harbour Police consider whether policing in relation to sex work being the responsibility of the PSNI would be a better arrangement, and if that arrangement is not suitable, look at how the Belfast Harbour Police can effectively police sex work alongside the PSNI in a consistent manner.

Condoms

In recent years condoms have been used by the PSNI as evidence to support prostitution-related charges. Confiscating condoms from sex workers or using condoms as evidence against sex workers is not recommended as it directly undermines HIV prevention and public health interventions. The negative consequences of condoms being used as evidence of prostitution by police, and why such practices should be discontinued in areas where they are still ongoing, has been covered by a number of major International reports in recent years, including Human Rights Watch’s Sex Workers at Risk, Condoms as Evidence of Prostitution in Four US Cities, 2012.

Strategic Lead

A strategic lead for sex work should be appointed within the PSNI to oversee the policing of sex work.

ACPO Working Group

The PSNI should join the ACPO National Police Working Group on Prostitution, Chaired by the National Police Lead on Prostitution, ACC Chris Armitt, in order to keep up to date with national best practice in this area.

Community Engagement

Good policing of sex work requires effective partnerships between the police and others, including the sex work community. Sex workers are one of the few groups in society that are still often excluded from involvement on policies relating to them, yet sex workers are the experts on their own lives. In Manchester the Manchester Prostitution Forum including all they key agencies such as the police, health service, city council and voluntary sector organisations meets every six months and its purpose is to develop and maintain effective partnership working. In Northern Ireland the Department of Justice has an NGO Engagement Group to tackle human trafficking, but no sex work group, and further, sex work related groups or individuals are not included in trafficking group. It is recommended that there be a group focused on sex work and that the sex work community is included in that group.

Support Services for Sex Workers

There is a lack of support services for sex workers in Northern Ireland, which is a clearly undesirable situation. Sex workers don’t have easy access to advice and support or dedicated health services.

Security concerns appear to have been one factor that has held back development of services. It is noted that the small Belfast Commercial Sex Workers Service operates very discreetly to the point no contact details are publicly available. The 2011 Department of Justice, Research paper investigating the issues for women in Northern Ireland involved in prostitution and exploring best practice elsewhere, states that previous attempts by one organisation to provide outreach support to sex workers were abandoned following the PSNI advising it would not be safe for their workers to engage in outreach work with sex workers.

The lack of support services for sex workers in Northern Ireland directly negatively impacts on the PSNI’s ability to police sex work effectively. It is recommended the PSNI reassesses the security situation regards service provision to sex workers and encourages the development of such services in future if possible.

Training

It is important that all officers who deal with sex workers receive adequate training. Officers should always be professional and respectful in their policing of sex work and the safety of persons selling sex should always be prioritised, regardless of any personal views the officer may have on prostitution.

As well as an understanding of how sex workers can be vulnerable to abuse and why abuse of persons selling sex needs to be taken seriously, officers should also understand the reasons why sex workers are often reluctant to engage with police, some of which are unique to sex workers, such as:
Worry about being judged by police for being a sex worker
Worry about not being believed by police because of being a sex worker
Fear of being investigated by police for sex work related offences
Fear of losing accommodation
Fear of being exposed as a sex worker
Fear of immigration problems
Fear of police and/or previous bad experience of the police
Feeling police will not been interested / do not care about sex workers
Acceptance of abuse as a ‘normal’ part of sex work

Knowledge of the law is important. Encountering police who are not aware of the law is a common problem for sex workers. Sex workers frequently report being ‘investigated’ and sometimes being evicted as a result of officers who appear to erroneously believe all sex work is criminal and thus they are acting correctly in seeking to obstruct sex workers from conducting their business.

Recognise that sex workers are stigmatised and face discrimination. Many sex workers are also migrants and may also experience racism and discrimination as a result of this. Sex workers can also be male or trans* and some sex workers also face discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

People selling sex are a diverse group of people, who come from a wide range of backgrounds and are in sex work for a wide range of reasons. Sex workers are not all the same. Whilst most persons selling sex are doing so as a matter of choice, police could encounter victims of sex trafficking in prostitution.

People selling sex deserve to be treated with the same respect and kindness as any other person. Officers should be caring, compassionate and understanding towards people selling sex and especially try not to come across as aggressive, as sex workers may feel intimidated by police.

As individuals sex workers have the right to make their own informed decisions about their own lives. The autonomy of sex workers must be respected. Police cannot forcibly ‘rescue’ sex workers.

Most sex workers do not want to be identified as sex workers because of the stigma attached to sex work. Often their families, friends and even partners do not know that they do sex work and they fear being found out. They may have a second job and that employer does not know about their sex work. Their landlord may not know they are a sex worker. It is very important the PSNI are very discreet when dealing with sex workers, in recognition of the discrimination sex workers face and their resulting privacy needs.

Many sex workers regard the term ‘prostitute’ as offensive. Numerous other terms sometimes used to describe sex workers are clearly offensive, including prossie, whore, hooker, ho. As a general rule the PSNI should note how people in sex work describe themselves, e.g. escort, and reflect their choice of language.

Media

The public’s views on sex work and sex trafficking are very heavily dependent on the information they receive via the media. ACPO recommends police forces develop evidence based sex work policing policies and scope their own ‘problem’ using factual information and statistics gathered locally. Historically police forces in the UK have periodically engaged in ‘crackdowns’ on sex work, especially on-street sex work, to appease public moral discontent, but such operations are not helpful, at best they only result in displacement of sex workers to other areas, which is not a solution and at worst, they have resulted in the murder of sex workers. Hostile media portrayal of people in sex work increases the risks to those in sex work. It is recommended the PSNI is careful not to contribute to or react to inaccurate and/or sensationalist media on sex work.

Supporting Policymakers

The PSNI should engage in public debate on sex work and support policymakers in creating laws and policies which make it easier to investigate and successfully prosecute those who abuse persons in prostitution. ACPO also takes a role in supporting national policymakers and lawmakers in creating prostitution policies and laws and regularly speaks to the media about prostitution legislation.

Published Sex Worker Contact Policy

Traditionally, many sex workers have never have occasion to interact with the PSNI, as they have not required police assistance and have not come to police attention due to the discreet nature of their work. However with increased public concern about sex trafficking into prostitution, all indoor sex workers can now expect to come in contact with police at times.

Most sex workers do not object to the PSNI making ‘friendly’ visits or ‘welfare checks’. This type of contact is much preferable to more intrusive and formal actions which can threaten the safety of sex workers. However there is a lack of information about what sex workers can expect when contacted by the PSNI. Also PSNI policies in contacting sex workers appear to differ in places from the policies of other forces sex workers may be familiar with, for example sex workers frequently report that police officers in Northern Ireland come alone when visiting and do not always provide a card with their details. Further to this sex workers do sometimes experience problems with criminals impersonating police.

At the moment sex workers being contacted by ‘police’ by phone, SMS, email or in person visits are frequently unsure if the persons presenting themselves are even really police are not. There is an information vacuum here that is causing distress to sex workers at times. It is recommended this situation is resolved by the PSNI publishing clear guidance for sex workers as to what they can expect if contacted by police, including how to identify police from others who may impersonate police.

Police Records

Sex workers have reported than any contact with police can result in a note being added to police records, stating that they are a sex worker. The practice of recording that persons are sex workers on police records, if ongoing, should be discontinued. Further, sex workers should be able to have such notes removed, if already added to their police record. Being identified as a sex worker on police records can prevent sex workers exiting sex work, as such notes can show up on Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks carried out by employers in connection with job applications. It is also clearly a disincentive to sex workers to engage with police at all, if doing so may result in their being recorded on police records as a sex worker.

Reporting to Social Services

Many sex workers are parents or guardians. Sex workers are not unfit parents or guardians. The PSNI should not report sex workers who are the parents or guardians of children to social services on the basis of their being sex workers. On 14 February 2014 the BBC published an article about compensation awarded to a Northern Irish woman whose photos were published on a sex work website without her consent. The article reported that this woman, who was not a sex worker, contacted police seeking assistance in getting her photos removed from the sex work website. Police were unable to help, but did report her to social services, who then carried out an investigation.

Outdoor Sex Work

There is reportedly very little outdoor sex work in Northern Ireland. Due to an administrative error soliciting offences were not recorded in Northern Ireland until 2011. No prosecutions for soliciting have been brought since this date to our knowledge. We have not covered outdoor sex work in these proposals, due to lack of experience of the issues involved in outdoor sex work, but we would recommend that any review of sex work policing should be for all sex workers, including outdoor sex workers. ACPO and the Home Office provide guidance on the policing of outdoor sex work. Also the Belfast Commercial Sex Workers Service has experience in this area and could identify additional recommendations for the benefit of outdoor sex workers.

Here is a guest post from Bibi an Independent Escort working in Leeds. Here she tells her own story of how she entered into sex work, her attitudes to sex-work, clients, life opportunities, stigma and violence.  She finishes of with what she believes could be done to improve her life.  This is part of the Escorting Lives series of guest blog posts.  If you have any contributions then please contact the editor.

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My name is Bibi and I am 35. I work as an independent escort in Leeds. I began my escorting journey around 3 years ago, it had certainly never been an ambition of mine and I really had no opinion on the sex industry, my sum total experience of prostitution was from tv shows like ‘Band of Gold’ and ‘Secret diary of a call girl’. It really did not feature in my life in the slightest. However sometimes life takes rather huge leaps and twists and turns and after a spectacularly bad relationship where I was up to my eyeballs in debt and where my fulltime job wage barely touched the sides I decided to do something about it.

What to do? Well getting a traditional second job didn’t seem a likely option as I worked shifts and we had just started down the long road of recession. At the time I had a friend who did glamour modelling and she suggested I give it a go… I laughed to begin with as I am a larger lady however I do have a fine big pair of bazookas and an adventurous side so I gave it a whirl. I was making a bit of money this way when someone suggested I do webcamming or directchat or phone services. I went down the directchat side of things and pretty soon I had gentlemen asking if I would do paid meets.

I thought about it for a while, could I should I? At the time I was doing some online dating and to be quite honest many of my ‘dates’ really were after abit of leg over and not much else…. you know the one…a couple of dinners out and drinks, back to his, back to mine and maybe another date but probably not. When I sat and thought about it, there seemed something much more honest about just being upfront and saying ‘Here’s some money lets go to bed’ and none of this ‘I’ll call you’ malarkey.

So I agreed to meet a gentleman from a well-known escorting website, he had lots of good feedback and seemed polite and respectful. We met for an hour and I presumed like probably many do, when they know nothing of this industry and the people involved in it, that he would be a grubby mac wearing type and he would expect me to pleasure him. WRONG!

He was a smartly dressed, clean, mature gentleman who wanted to spend most of his hour pleasing me… Yes I had an hour of unexpected and surprising orgasms and £100 to show for it. Afterwards I waited for the fear and shame to kick in. It never did, I was excited and exhilarated!

The same day I changed my services to escort and set my stall up as it were. Now 3 years on I am fulltime, I don’t want anyone to think prostitution is a total bed of roses, no Pretty woman here, I was ‘outed’ from my main job and I felt too upset and worried to fight for my right to stay employed. It felt the best thing to do would be to resign and pray that I could escort fulltime. So far I seem to be ok. I pay my bills and I pay my tax (yes tax payer here)!

The best things about my job are the hours. I can work when I like. I can do as many or as few meets as I want. The money is quite good and some of the people I have met along the way, clients and wgs alike are some of the nicest, intelligent and interesting people I have ever met. Its given me opportunities I never had before, being taken to lovely restaurants and hotels and concerts etc. It has also given me the opportunity to run my very own business with ‘Bibi’ as my brand. I have learned new skills (aside from tricks in the bedroom that would make a prostitute blush ;)) I can now manage most aspects of a website, I have learned how to manage a diary and how to deal with enquiries from emails and the phone. I have learned more people skills (its not always about sex, you sometimes have to be almost like a counsellor and adviser). I have learned how to keep accounts and fill in a tax form, all transferable skills!

However at the moment I have no plans to do anything else, I enjoy what I do. Its as simple as that and I feel proud that I have done something alternative from the rat-race.

Ok the downsides. The biggest problem with being an escort/prostitute (insert your own word here) is the stigma. It is not something I can shout from the rooftops, certain friends and family I think just wouldn’t get it, Maybe they would and I am doing them a disservice but it’s not something I feel ready to test out.

When you see yet another lady being ‘outed’ in the press and it has happened to a friend of mine. It smacks you straight in the face that we seem to live in a world where sex sells in more ways than one. A woman chooses to charge money for sex which is legal, but because its a slow news day and she works in another job seemingly its ok for the media to essentially try and ruin her life by naming and shaming and using such words as sordid and seedy (the lady in question worked from a perfectly nice, normal home, nothing sordid or seedy with it!).

Joe public reads these things and those words used are what they associate with what we do. I suppose doing an article saying ‘Went to a nice part of town to a clean, smart apartment where I was offered a glass of water and we chatted amicably for a while before I asked what services this lady offered’ doesn’t have the same ability to sell that days rag. And people from the media wonder why we don’t want to have interviews with them???

I am lucky that I haven’t personally had a violent client but I know plenty of ladies that have. So its always in the back of your mind. I also know alot of ladies who have been robbed or targeted because of being in the sex industry and some fear talking to the police because of the way they work and because they fear the police won’t be sympathetic.

I have spoken to a few ladies I know about what we feel would make life easier all round. The first thing that is immediately apparent is that we wish we could work together. The way the law is, currently it is illegal to have more than one girl working in a premises, it can be classed as a brothel. Yet we crave the feeling of safety, knowing our friend is just a room away, should things go wrong. We want to be company and support for one another yet we can’t. Why is this? It must surely be logical to the police and the law makers that two ladies looking out for each other would reduce risk and reduce police time being put into investigating attacks/murders/robberies.

The issue of trafficking seems intertwined with the question of prostitution, yet we see very little evidence of it. If some were to be believed then we are all coerced or forced into selling ourselves. Yet all the ladies I know choose this and work for themselves. I find the idea of trafficking abhorrent and it will exist somewhere, but it is a separate thing to the many women who want to do this work and do it to the best of their ability.

I personally would have no problem with being on a register like say nurses and having my passport checked now and then (or for ladies who come here from abroad to work a work visa).I guess this could cause its own problems though. I don’t claim to have all the answers.

I would like to see more services for escorts such as GENESIS in Leeds. This is a service where working girls can access advice, an ugly mugs scheme, free condoms and STI screening. They can also access advice regarding exiting, benefits and arrange to see a counsellor. In an ideal world groups like this would be national.

I would also like to see crimes where working girls are targeted categorised as hate crimes like racism and homophobia.

You cannot change how some people feel about prostitution but collectively we have to see it is not going away and the harder the law makes it for us to do our job the more it drives it underground. Some people say when a girl gets attacked ‘Ah well she was a prostitute’ do they honestly think guys who attack us aren’t going to end up attacking non-working girls? We are all some-ones mother, sister, daughter and friend.

I want to be able one day to say openly and proudly ‘I am Bibi and I am a prostitute.’

This interview of Laura Lee by Simon Gibbs has been crossposted from the Libertarian Home.  Laura Lee gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Justice committee.  Her treatment was despicable, especially considering the legislation proposed is meant to protect Laura Lee.

On 9th January 2014 the Justice Committee of the Northern Ireland Asembly met to consider a Human Trafficking Bill. Evidence was taken from Ruhama and Turn of the Red Light – charities that work to support or rescue sex workers in Ireland and Northern Ireland – and from one sex worker from the International Union of Sex Workers.

The meeting with Ms Lee of IUSW was minuted thusly:

Ms Lee outlined the key issues in the International Union of Sex Workers submission on
the clauses and schedule of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions
and Support for Victims) Bill.

A detailed question and answer session followed covering issues including: the membership of the International Union of Sex Workers including its Northern Ireland membership;the main supporters and funders of the Union; the extent of coercion in the sex industry; the number of deaths of sex workers in Amsterdam and Sweden; whether the sex trade would be driven underground as a result of the proposed new law; the possible implications if Clause 6 was introduced; how the reported £30 million profit from the sex trade in Northern Ireland is distributed; the extent of violence in the sex industry; the stigma associated with sex work and the reasons why it could increase under the proposed new legislation; the legal definition of trafficking and what it meant in practice; the Swedish model and its effect;the trade union organisations to which the International Union of Sex Workers is affiliated and their differing views on the proposed new law; the extent to which people with disabilities use prostitutes; and whether sex workers rights should be protected.

The briefing was recorded by Hansard

The Chairman thanked Ms Lee and she left the meeting.

Ms Lee is a part-time sex worker and an activist for the rights of prostitutes. After Ms Lee was entertained by a discussion about whether her rights should be protected by the law, she was, perhaps understandably, more than slightly annoyed. The dry minute fails to reflect the incandescent anger I might feel if the Justice Committee (no less) chose to have a conversation about whether my rights were worth protecting. Thank God I’m English because this was not the worst question – that brief exchange does not turn up in the minutes.

The resulting Twitter furore reminded one Twitter correspondent of the fictional notion of “Saxation” which we discussed here some time ago.

Sensing that there were examples here of real-world problems I’ve long been concerned with, I contacted Ms Lee to find out more:

Congratulations on your recent appearance before the Justice Committee. I think you got a bit of a poor treatment, but it must have taken a lot of hard work to even get there. How did you come to be invited?

I have been a sex worker now for twenty years, on and off. I first became interested in sex workers’ rights after the appalling behaviour I experienced at the hands of local people in a small highland town where I lived, once they had discovered I was a part time escort. I knew that something had to change and I began to work with the IUSW and SCOT-PEP as a campaigner. From there I began to do a lot of media, particularly in the North of Ireland. I asked that I be allowed in to give evidence to the Committee as I felt my experience should be heard, the voice of an active sex worker.

I agree that my treatment was bad, indeed, I was taken aback by just how rude some of the MLA’s were.

What are the Justice Committee trying to achieve and what was your position on it?

The Committee are trying to introduce the Swedish model in Northern Ireland which in effect would make it illegal to purchase sex but still legal for me to advertise and sell. At the base of the current efforts is a solid religious based hatred of sex work and an incorrect assumption that by reducing demand, sex work will simply disappear.

The Swedish model has been shown to be ineffective, it simply doesn’t work. Sex workers who are the ones purportedly being protected are the ones to suffer in the long run. They are far less likely to report attacks, they work further away from the police to avoid detection, thus placing them in greater danger and crucially, outreach services struggle to find those sex workers who require condoms, needle exchange and additional support.

In the Swedish Model, to be clear, people are arrested and jailed for the conduct which the authorities there decided should be illegal?

That’s correct. The purchase of sex is illegal and as such the buyer is subject to arrest. Abolitionists will tell you that the sex workers are protected and the buyers are targeted, but actually, that’s not the case. In order for the police to catch buyers, they will often ‘stake out’ a sex worker’s property and arrest the buyers as they are leaving. Aside from the immediate financial loss the sex worker will feel due to a downturn in trade, if she is working from home and the landlord gets to hear of police activity then she can be made homeless. This is no way to take care of someone who is deemed “vulnerable” by the authorities. You cannot legislate against a contract and hope that it will impact on one party only.

My position on it is simply this – a woman’s consent to sex is her own to give. Whether she is there by choice, because of circumstances or because of coercion, every woman should be entitled to the full protection of the law. At present, that’s not the case and will only happen through decriminalisation. (Please note, when I refer to ‘woman’. I am of course aware of male and trans* sex workers, but since the committee has chosen to focus it’s efforts on women, then I’ll respond in kind.)

In summary, what the committee are seeking to do is target the wrong group – those who pay for consensual sex. What we need to target are the traffickers, those who cause real harm and suffering and I would be very much in favour of a specialised police force set up to do just that.

You were asked many challenging questions some, which I’ll get to, seemed very unreasonable but you were asked how many sex workers you represented and were not immediately able to answer. To be honest, that did sound like a fair question to me. Did you get back to the committee with an answer?

Yes I did. The IUSW has never been a membership type organisation and in that way we differ from the GMB. We are a network of sex workers and allies who all strive towards a common goal, decriminalisation of the sex industry. It’s impossible to quantify how many of us there are, because people become involved as and when they can and when their skills are required. We also have a large network of friends who subscribe to our website and keep abreast of what we are doing.

What the committee failed to take on board is that I was also representing the very many sex workers who write to me on a regular basis and thank me for the work I do. Just because those sex workers have chosen not to become involved politically or join a group, doesn’t mean that their opinions don’t count and I that I can’t be said to represent them.

By the way, how is the Union constituted? Is it a branch of the GMB or an independent group?

It’s independent of the GMB although of course there is some cross over in that some members of the GMB are also supporters of the IUSW and vice versa.

The Committee seemed to believe, as I think Ruhama did, that prostitution and sex work are inherently violent by their nature. You said you enjoyed your work. Why the big gulf in opinion do you think? What kinds of violence are they speaking of?

The experience of sex work can mean different things for many people, but I don’t believe that it’s any more dangerous than a lot of other jobs available, such as working as an A & E nurse. My experiences have been very positive in the industry and indeed I know of many sex workers who have thrived in the industry.

From the point of view of Ruhama, for them it is essential that sex work continues to be viewed as a horrific infringement on the civil liberties of women, after all, if there is no horror, then there is no ‘rescue’ required and the need for their ‘services’ reduces. When there are massive salaries (reportedly in excess of 100k) and funding awards at stake, then little wonder that they portray sex work as a monstrous choice for any woman to make.

From my point of view as a sex worker, the only violence I have experienced is at the hands of antis and those opposed to sex work. So I have had eggs thrown at my car, dog excrement through my letter box, abuse screamed at me in the street, threats and intimidation, the list is endless. I have never experienced any of those from a client, just from those who believe my job to me morally wrong. Ironic, to say the least.

I wonder if any of the people throwing eggs were able to articulate reasons for what they do, beyond “god says no” or “it’s disgusting”. What’s on their mind do you think?

It was an act of pure hatred. They despised me because I am sex positive and not at all ashamed of my job and my ability to bring pleasure and joy to others. I made them take a long hard look at their own insecurities and they didn’t like what they saw. Combined with that was the “sheep” mentality, so while one or two members of the group may have had a begrudging admiration for my work and the stance I took, they couldn’t show it as to deviate from the crowd in a town so small only brings trouble.

It sounds as if you have paid a high price for your commitment to the job over decades. I can see the money is good, for sex work you are charging about four times what I do for software engineering. What is it about sex work that has kept you in the industry for such a long time? Why haven’t you cashed out, so to speak?

A good friend of mine once said, sex work isn’t a job, it’s a vocation and one that keeps calling you back. I love my job for many reasons. I’m a people person and so love to meet new people and hear their stories, find out what makes them tick. For me as a parent, sex work also allows me to choose my own hours and fit them in around my studies too. It’s a job which gives great satisfaction, in terms of the happiness I can bring to others and in exploring my own limits and boundaries. I’m not sure if I have paid a high price through sex work, I have through campaigning because it attracts a lot of nasty individuals. In the end though, it’s worth it.

Returning to the experience at the Justice Committee the chair said, I quote:

some of us do not need any research or any evidence. For some of us, the very principle of purchasing sex from a woman is sexual violence, full stop. Is it a form of violence?

Assuming the client doesn’t actually strike you, is his purchase a violent act? Is that how you feel?

Consensual sex may never be construed as an act of violence. Although payment has been made, I absolutely reserve the right to refuse any service or terminate the session as I so choose. The act of payment does not provide a buyer with a licence to do as he pleases, that’s a myth perpetuated by aboltionists to demonise sex work. I have too much respect for myself and my body to permit repeated acts of violence or any other form of degradation for that matter.

Returning to that quote “some of us do not need any research or any evidence”, that’s from the chair person. Is this a good process for the chair to follow?

That the chair person of a Justice Committee who’s purpose it is to collect evidence would then expressly state that his moral view outweighs the need for evidence is truly frightening. It is further indicative of the fact that although they allowed a sex worker to address the committee, there was never any intention to listen to me, or learn from my experiences. My treatment in Stormont was to serve as a warning to others who are contemplating speaking out against the Swedish model.

I’d like to get onto why we both felt you’d been asked some unreasonable questions and treated poorly.

The worst of these questions involved your work with the disabled, which involves providing sexual services to the disabled, is that right?

This is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. Some of the guys I see are bed bound, they have no social life and very few friends, so meeting a potential partner is problematic. To be clear, we’re not talking about porn star style sex here, in some cases they just want to experience what it’s like to lie beside a woman, stroke her soft skin and to be cuddled. If anyone who ever had any doubts as to the morality of what I do could have seen the smiles and tears of gratitude that it’s been my privilege to see, morality just wouldn’t come into it. In my opinion it is more immoral to condemn those men to a life of loneliness and solitude.

This sounds like something that may work for some people in those circumstances but not for others?

I always make absolutely certain that the client has thoroughly thought his decision through and that it’s not something he feels pressured into by his peer group or a well meaning carer. Consent is essential. After that the chief concern is the setting and maintenance of boundaries. When you have an ongoing intimate relationship with someone, it’s important to set those boundaries quickly, lest lines be blurred. The very last thing I would want to do is lead someone on or give them the wrong impression.

So although I charge a reduced rate for the disabled, I do think it’s important that the charge is there as it keeps it as a business transaction. This is something which Paul Givan MLA couldn’t seem to grasp. He felt that I ought to work for free. I’m not sure anyone works for free no matter how passionate they are about their job and let’s not forget that working with the disabled can be very hard work in terms of lifting and moving too, so it’s real labour. In fact, several of my disabled clients wrote to me in the aftermath of the Justice Committee “hearing” to say how disgusted they were at Givan’s remark that I “target vulnerable disabled”. That’s as insulting to them as it is to me because it implies that they cannot think for themselves or do their research on the internet and come to an informed decision that this is something they’d like to do. I found his comments as the head of Justice Committee to be absolutely appalling.

It seems to me, and I appreciate how much guesswork is going on here but I’m trying to understand. It seems to me, that what you do for your clients – and the disabled clients in particular – requires not just physical labour but a great deal of psychological effort to keep your head straight and maintain those boundaries.

I can imagine that the fee you charge is a form of defence against getting too tangled up in the lives of your clients. The puritans seem to be arguing that your self, your personhood, is given up in payment for the fee, and this undermines you. I think perhaps that your ego, your love, your inner being is the thing that is protected the most by the fee; that the fee has the opposite role to what many people think? The payment of the fee ensures that you – on the inside – are not for sale.

That’s exactly it. The fee is to protect both parties to the transaction from emotional harm. After all, I’m not made of stone and can develop feelings too !
Recently I had the honour of visiting a man who is terminally ill and my heart literally went out to him, I really didn’t want to take the fee but I knew I had to be professional about it, especially when he handed me the envelope at the beginning of the session with a wink and a smile saying it was to “keep us right”. The person that I am is not for sale and never has been, but my nurturing and caring loving nature are for hire, and that”s a huge difference.
It takes a huge amount of inner strength to visit a man who knows he is dying, give him that final hug and walk away again, knowing I may never see him again, even as a friend for coffee. It goes against everything inside me, the person I am wants to fix it all and make it better. Sometimes, I can’t. The fee gives me that permission to leave again after a couple of hours and come back only on his terms, with what he is comfortable with.

And of course, in practical terms the fee allows you to be the person you are intellectually and with your family too?

I’m a completely different person at home, of course. Usually to be found studying or crashed on my sofa in a onesie, very possibly the mostunsexy thing you’ll ever set eyes on. The fee allows me to separate home and work life very effectively, which I think is important. I need time to recharge my batteries and take stock and be thankful for what I have – a very loving and supportive family.

Of course, the egalitarian thing to do, and the altruistic thing to do might be to sacrifice all of that (the income and all your protective boundaries) and work for free for the disabled. It might even “maximise utility” to borrow an economic term. Can you see there is a cold-hearted logic in what Paul said to you as well?

I can, but cold hearted is putting it mildly because it completely disregards the needs of both parties to establish and respect boundaries and opens both of us up to potential emotional hurt. I would like Mr. Givan to sit down and watch “The Sessions” starring Helen Hunt on repeat, until the message sinks in. The relationship between a disabled person and a sexual surrogate is very complex and must be treated as such. It’s not acceptable to just insist that both parties give up the protections that are in place for everyone’s benefit. By everyone I mean the other people around the disabled person and around me too, not just the immediate transaction.

So it seems the personal and political situation you face is poorly understood. The Justice Committee chair seems intent on making decisions that will inconvenience, impoverish, harm or imprison the various parties based only on his moral intuition – reason and evidence be damned. You strike a defiant pose on Twitter, but what is needed now to make this right? What are you, the union and SCOT-PEP planning to do?

I personally am lodging a complaint with the NIA as I think Mr. Givan in particular was exceptionally rude and intrusive. I know that some other members of the union and supporters have also written in complaint, so we’ll see where that goes. For the future, I won’t be dissuaded from my work with disabled clients but more importantly, I won’t be stopped from fighting for the rights of sex workers. The whole experience for me was a learning curve, I didn’t honestly think that someone at that level of government could behave in such an ungentlemanly and nasty fashion, but it’s noted for the future.

Obviously a lot of people will feel a bit shy taking an interest in this issue unless they are personally affected, but is there anything members of the public can do that we might not think of?

Certainly ! They can support the work I do through lobbying their own MLA’s and asking them what they intend to do about Lord Morrow’s bill which will endanger sex workers. They can keep up with my blog or Twitter to find out where I’m speaking and support me that way too. Thank you for asking me to do this interview, it’s been a pleasure.

Likewise, take care.

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