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A post by UglyMugs.ie who you can follow on twitter @uglymugsie

The Canadian Government’s new sex work bill includes a provision banning the advertising of sexual services. Ireland did the same 20 years ago. The advertising of brothels and prostitution is prohibited in Ireland under Section 23 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994.

In 1998 proceedings were brought against Mike Hogan, then publisher of the In Dublin magazine, for carrying adverts for ‘escort’ services. He pleaded guilty in 2000. The law and this case now act as a somewhat successfully deterrent against publishing blatant sex work advertisements to Irish publications.

What the law cannot do though is stop the advertising of sex work on websites located outside of Ireland. Irish sex workers can easily advertise and be found on an array of Irish adult websites, invariably operated by companies located outside of Irish jurisdiction to bypass the Irish law.

Ireland’s powerful anti sex work lobby have been furiously calling for such websites to be shut down for many years. The problem isn’t that the 1994 legislation didn’t cover websites. It did. The problem is that Ireland simply cannot enforce its law against advertising sex work across the rest of the world. It can only enforce it within its own jurisdiction.

Almost every trick in the book has been tried and failed. US diplomatic cables published in 2010 by WikiLeaks even reveal secret meetings took place between Irish nuns, police and US authorities in efforts to shut down one Irish escort website which was hosted in the US at the time. The folly of it was, even if the US had have been prepared to shut down a website that was legal in the US, the operators of it would have simply moved onto another jurisdiction the next day.

The Irish experience demonstrates what a Canadian law against the advertising of sexual services could possibly achieve if brought in and enforced to the fullest extent possible.

It could force sex workers to advertise more covertly in Canadian publications. It could lead to an increase in Internet advertising. It could force Canadian sex work websites to move outside of Canadian jurisdiction. It couldn’t stop advertising of sex work in Canada.

There are a few wacky ideas out there that Ireland hasn’t tried yet. If you put aside Western democratic values on freedom of speech and access to information, a country could in theory bring in laws forcing its ISPs to block or filter web content that could be sex for sale adverts. It would however be very difficult and expensive, easily circumvented by Internet users, and could only possibly be successful to the extent it could lead to sex workers being more discreet in their online advertising to avoid their ads being blocked.

The latest idea in Ireland is to go after people for viewing prostitution material as is already done in the case of persons viewing child abuse material. The Irish Justice Committee’s 2013 Report on the Review of the Legislation on Prostitution in Ireland states that ‘the accessing of web sites – whether located in the State or abroad – that advertise prostitution in the State should be treated in the same way as accessing sites that advertise or distribute child pornography.’

The proposed Canadian law to stop the advertising of sex work would be entirely ineffective.
It would fail to stop sex workers advertising. It could potentially have negative consequences for sex workers though, in terms of reducing choices, both in terms of where they can advertise and how clearly they can advertise what they do and do not offer.

Other potential negative consequences are a loss of revenue to Canada’s economy. The Spanish brought in and then repealed a ban on advertising prostitution in 2012, reportedly due to the loss of the advertising revenue to Spanish companies. Most seriously, anti-trafficking academics such as Mark Latonero and Danah Boyd, who both conducted research around US website Craigslist, which was pressured into stopping accepting adult adverts in 2010, have shown that pushing sex work advertising onto international websites, out of reach of the US authorities, harms law enforcement efforts to combat abuses such as trafficking.

20 years ago Irish legislators were doing something new, but Canada can’t say the same now. It is clear a law against the advertising of sexual services won’t stop sex workers advertising but will cause harm, so what is the point of it?

This question is one posed regularly and often dismissed both by anti sex work campaigners and also by some women and men who presume that the question is somehow a justification for a mythical male sex drive that is insatiable. Their assumption presumably being that women do not have sexual desire. This presumption itself is especially strange considering many of those same women argue female autonomy and agency. There seems in their argument a nod to the myth of the woman as a docile recipient of male lust. This oddity aside however, the question itself is perplexing.

When we talk about rights we inevitably mean rights recognised within law. The problem however is that laws are always subjective and often arbitrary, reflecting the desires, more often than not, of government rather than the general public. Law is also modish, encapsulating the political and social angsts of the legislators of a particular time and place.
The law in the UK has over the centuries interfered with our sexual freedom in often minute detail. The law for example once forbid anal sex, and still persists in often arbitrarily and subjectively deciding what sexual practices we can perform and what sexual images we can look at. What was illegal in the 1950s, ie homosexuality, for example, is now recognised as equal in law with heterosexuality, while what was once legal, the right for a man to have sex with his wife whenever he wished, is now illegal. The law relatively recently decided that consent, quite rightly, must take legal precedence over, in this case, a husbands sexual satisfaction.
In this way what is a “right” today may not be tomorrow. So if the government decided that sex was a “Human Right” then it would be. A right of course does not imply that a person has to oblige themselves of that right, but it would, in this case recognise in law that a human being had a right to a consensual sexual act with another consenting adult.

The question, should the right to sex be recognised in legislation in many senses is however superfluous because sex exists outside jurisdiction and despite the best efforts of law enforcement is virtually ungovernable. Controlling human sexuality will remain a dream until legislators find the means to control not only the human mind but also the human body. No doubt that time will come. But in the meantime sex remains an intrinsic part of our DNA. Our bodies, even if we are asexual, are never the less sexual, in that they have the capacity to reproduce, to have sex. Sex defines humanity in the most intimate terms in virtually every human interaction. We can as humans choose to live without sex, and indeed society can choose to deny some people access to sex. Catholic priests for example choose to be celibate and yet their writings tell us that celibacy is the most difficult expression of their vocation, and one which they find hard to keep. The human body, even if the human mind chooses to do without sex, inevitably acts autonomously from the brain or the arbitrary rules of law, to declare its right to sex.

Inevitably the question is raised “What about the disabled, do they especially have a right to sex, if their disabilities make it difficult to form relationships or to meet people for consensual casual sex.”
Cruelly some people insist that the disabled man or woman must either remain sexless or somehow form a loving relationship. Having worked with disabled people this attitude especially makes me angry for three reasons.

1 Forming a “love” relationship for for many severely disabled is next to impossible (but of course nothing is impossible). Also many people who are bed bound or have terminal illnesses, for very good reasons, choose not to even try to form any long term relationship.

2 Sex, as a pleasure, as a release of often frustrated mental and physical desire, as the expression of simple joy in human interaction, the enjoyment of another’s body, is for me and for many men and women, disabled or not, enough in itself. Love is another human emotion altogether and should not be confused with sex which is essentially a biological reproductive reality of our human experience which also happens to be pleasurable.

3 As a society we pretend to care to the physical well being of the disabled. We provide for their bodies, washing, dressing, healing, and yet we care less for their minds or for their natural human desire for sexual release. That’s considered just dirty.

However to avoid the trolls that will no doubt shout “ablest” if you discuss disability and sexual desire, I will reference much of the above to be also true of all of humanity.

In conclusion. I believe that in many instances it would be useful to have access to sexual happiness recognised as a “right” in law . Not least because I think happiness itself is something society should strive for for all its citizens. Do I think it will happen? No. There are too many who fear sex and too many who would censor sexual happiness, especially if it were sex of which “they” disapproved. Does lack of recognition legally make sex less of a right? Ultimately no. Sex and the pursuit of sexual happiness is something humans will always strive for, and if the law prevents it, they will find ways to circumvent those laws. Would recognising “sex” as a right not cause problems over providing access? No, because the law places consent as paramount in any sexual interaction and quite rightly so. And ultimately consensual sex between consenting adults should always be beyond the control of the law.

The right to sex or no right to sex debate will no doubt continue. But these are my view. Opinions are of course welcome to what is an interesting discussion.

I was contacted today by Diane Taylor from the Guardian Newspaper. They are looking for sex workers to take part in a documentary. Details below.

If anyone would like to be involved but would like to have ask advice from myself before replying feel free to drop me a line at douglasfox4@gmail.com

We are working on a documentary for the Guardian about sex work. We are looking at issues such as the impact on sex workers if proposals to criminalise clients who buy sex are implemented. We are also looking at draconian/problematic policing of sex work, increasing poverty such as benefit sanctions which put extra pressure on sex workers etc. We will be interviewing sex workers without revealing their identities or locations. There are many, vocal people who are engaged in the debate about sex work but very often the voices of sex workers themselves are absent from this debate. We hope to correct this imbalance by reflecting some of the diverse views that sex workers have about some of the above issues..

If you are interested in finding out more please contact me on 07966 145098 or at dianeltaylor@btconnect.com

Confidentiality is assured.

A DISCUSSION ON REGULATION

Sex work is peculiar in that it is brutally stigmatised, being primarily women involved the discourse is also trapped within a so called feminist discourse about gender equality. The debate is also one seemingly forever owned by negative imagery that portrays the sex worker as the perpetual victim. As a sex worker however I know that that imagery does not represent my reality and I am sure that this is also the case for many others.

I have learned during my sixteen years selling sex, and over ten years in sex worker activism, that sex for sale is a hugely diverse business. I can draw on my own personal experience as a gay male sex worker, mainly working independently and indoors, in London, Edinburgh and Newcastle, and because my partner runs an escort agency I can also reference a wide spectrum of other experiences, from middle class housewives, professional women, single mothers, and a minority of others, who either by choice or circumstance, have turned to sex work to fund drug habits or simply alternative lifestyles.
As an activist I have also met migrant sex workers, some working legally and some not, some with good experiences of sex work and some who feel trapped in sex work. Sex work truly does represent a huge spectrum of experiences and as an activist my conclusion is that that sex work ultimately reflects the society it serves and that just as each society has its own unique characteristics, good and bad, so sex work will reflect those characteristics. Despite this the sex work debate inevitably simplifies and sensationalises the arguments with dangerous consequences for sex workers.

When commentators make sweeping statements about sex work, without referencing the circumstances of the society in which particular sex workers operate, they create a discourse that is unhelpful and even dangerous. As an activists I share a common desire for decriminalisation, but I recognise and always argue that decriminalisation, when it comes, must be negotiated to reflect the needs of sex workers and how they work within their own particular societies. Simply calling for decriminalisation without referencing the voices of sex workers results, as in Holland and Germany, for example, with imposed forms of legalisation that do not reflect the needs of sex workers, but rather the desire of the state to control and regulate sex work as a problem. The result is that sex workers become victims of legislators who do not understand why so many sex workers stubbornly choose to remain isolated and difficult to collectivise in a traditional way.

The other problem is that legislators, so called feminists, the media, and even some activists, deliberately choose to portray sex work in its extremes. In doing so they preserve a discourse that alienates many sex workers and preserves the mythology of otherness that stigmatises the sex worker as peculiar, as someone who needs help or who needs to be controlled. In truth most sex work and most sex workers are extraordinary only in their ordinariness.
Sex is the most natural of activities and selling sex does not change that. The stigma of selling sex is what makes sex work extraordinary, not the act. The hugely diverse nature of sex work and of the people who sell sex and who buy it is rarely portrayed in a populist but influential discourse that prefers sex workers as either abused victims, happy hookers or as exotic and tragic.

The first episode of the Rupert Everett documentary “Love For Sale,” exemplifies how even a positive documentary still prostitutes the images and language of sex work, presenting sex work in a populist caricature. The viewers are shown scantily dressed transsexual sex workers, (one of whom, a friend of Rupert’s, was murdered) working on the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, a male escort who had lost eight of his friends, also escorts, to suicide and drugs, a street worker in Liverpool feeding a drug habit, a Muslim, homeless young rent boy in Tel Aviv. These stories and images are the experiences of some sex workers, and they are experiences we must not ignore, but equally we also must not allow particular populist stories and images to be used to confirm negative populist prejudices about sex work and sex workers which politicians can turn into negative legislation. The images and language of otherness, even when supportive, is ultimately not helpful. Similarly the politicisation of sex worker rights so that sex workers again are presented as victims of capitalism, as victims of unemployment, as victims of the benefit system, all may in certain circumstances be true of some sex workers but not of all. They are images and language that confirm prejudices of sex worker victim hood rather than of the sex worker as an ordinary citizen deserving of rights the same as anyone else.

One day I hope that there may be a documentary, or an article, that does not deal in sexed up images, but which represents sex work as it is, work, and sex workers as being deserving of protection and of a voice in deciding legislation that will affect their lives as ordinary people, not as extraordinary people or people deserving of pity or in need of protection. In the documentary “Love For Sale,” Rupert Everett takes a group of transsexual sex workers to view paintings of nineteenth century sex workers by Toulouse lautrec. This for me was the most positive piece of dialogue in the documentary. The sex workers rejected the images of tired, used and degraded sex workers as not representing their experience of sex work. I wonder if, having watched the documentary those sex workers were happy with their portrayal, naked, exotic and described using the language of otherness which made them and their work seem sad and lonely and desperate? Would it have been positive, as they understood their lives and their work, or would the images of them used in the documentary have reminded them of the paintings of Toulouse Lautrec?

220px-Burzum_-_Fallen

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.

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