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I’ve been reading the report from the recent inquiry on human trafficking, chaired as it was by Baroness Helena Kennedy. The link to the report is here.
In total the report came up with ten findings, the most relevant to the sex industry being number one –
Scotland needs to have a comprehensive strategy to prevent and tackle human trafficking.
I can only agree with that, because as it stands, the “strategies” being adopted by the various police forces are diverse, to say the least. Firstly, there is Edinburgh, where there is a tolerance of parlours and to some extent, working flats also. The police there will visit the parlours regularly and ensure that the women are working of their own accord and are not being forced to do any acts they are unhappy with. In general “Indie’s” are left alone to get on with their work, which is the way it should be.
Ms. Kennedy was quoted as saying that the police “aren’t doing anything” which in the case of Strathclyde’s finest in Glasgow, is untrue and unfair. In Glasgow they have been leafleting inner city flats with flyers in several different languages and where there have been foreign nationals present they have been raiding. Again, they seem to be leaving the Indie’s alone.
However, in Aberdeen, there is a whole new approach being taken. I have taken the following passage from a leaflet issued by Quay Services in Aberdeen.
“Grampian Police are under duty to respond to any concerns regarding criminal activity from members of the public. If someone e.g. housekeeping/hotel staff, neighbours etc alert the Police to any activity that is deemed by them as suspicious e.g. different individuals coming to and from a flat, different women coming and going from a flat, noises that would indicate that the property was being used for sex etc, then the Police may visit the property.
This is because they are looking for any criminal activity related to prostitution and looking to ensure the safety of off-street sex workers.
Their main concerns include:
* Ensuring women’s safety
* Ensuring that there is no coercion/force i.e. human trafficking and making sure that the women present are working of their own free will
* Confirmation of identity i.e. women are who they say they are
* The prevention of bigger crimes – Grampian Police are of the opinion that this method of engaging with off-street sex workers may help to prevent larger scale crimes such as robberies and attacks on women by punters. It is hoped that by building a better rapport and trust with Grampian Police, women may feel more comfortable and able to inform Police about crimes committed against them, and ultimately feel more protected by Grampian Police.
* Grampian Police are keen to share information with off-street sex workers regarding dodgy punters and also wish to provide safety advice.
If the Police do come to your door, they will be looking to ascertain that you are working of your own free will and that you are working within the boundaries of the law. The main objective of the Police is to establish that women are working of their own free will and are not being commercially sexually exploited.
What normally happens next is that the Police will take your photograph – they do this because if something happened to you then they would be able to identify you more quickly and would help inform their investigation. The photograph is only seen by a small team of Officers who are working within the sex industry department of Grampian Police.
The Police will also take your contact details and run them through the Police National Computer (PNC check), a computer database system that is used by law enforcement agencies across the UK. They are looking for any outstanding warrants or any previous criminal convictions that they should be aware of. This is no different to what happens with ‘on-street’ sex workers.
If you are with a punter when Grampian Police turn up, they also will take a photograph and personal details from the punter (if he/she is present at the time of the Police visit). The punter’s details are also run through the PNC. This is also for your safety, to ensure that the punter is not a dangerous criminal or is wanted by the Police.
As long as there is no evidence of criminal activity or brothel keeping, then the Police will take no action. After Grampian Police have visited and are satisfied that you are working independently, they will ask you to call or text them next time that you are working in Aberdeen. This is because: if a hotel or serviced flat, for example, do contact them again with the same issues such as men coming to and from the property, then they will be able to confirm that you are not doing anything illegal. Then it is up to the individual establishment to decide whether they wish to take any action, such as asking you to leave.
The decision to ask you to leave is made by the venue and not at the insistence of Grampian Police, unless they have had a specific complaint.
Grampian Police wish to establish a good rapport with women working in prostitution. They want to help prevent crimes happening against you e.g. punter robberies, brothel involvement etc. By communicating with the Police about when you are working in Aberdeen, they endeavour to be able to pass onto you any information that is relevant to your wellbeing, such as giving details of a dodgy punter for you to look out for. And vice versa.”
So let me just sum that up for you. Where there is a well known independent escort working quite legally in Aberdeen, the police will come to the premises and in spite of the fact she has committed no crime, they will take her name, her photograph and that of her client, who has also committed no crime. Lest we forget, this is in case of “trafficking”. The bit that really irked me was this – “Then it is up to the individual establishment to decide whether they wish to take any action, such as asking you to leave.” So picture the scene, plod arrive at a hotel and explain to the management that they are paying a visit to room 123 because there is a prostitute working there. OF COURSE THEY’RE GOING TO WANT HER OUT. So this “welfare” visit being conducted by the police amounts to little more than ensuring the lady is flung out of her accommodation, exactly how does that go towards ensuring her safety ?
As for the claim that only a select few of the vice unit will have the information gleaned, I’m confident that that’s not the case either. The lady’s details will be recorded on internal police intelligence files and she will be tagged as a “known prostitute”. In real terms that means that if and when she ever applies for a Disclosure Scotland check, she will be turned down for any job that involves working with vulnerable people, such as children and disabled people.
To put that into context for you, I am the Mother of a stroppy ten year old. Never have my parenting skills been called into question and I have never had any contact with social services etc, however, if I apply for a job as a childminder, I’ll be turned down, because I am a prostitute.
Also, I am registered with the TLC website and see quite a few disabled clients. So, it’s perfectly OK ( and legal ) for me to have intimate sexual contact with them, but if I apply for a job as their carer, I’ll be turned down, because I am a prostitute.
As is evident from the above, there is no unity in the actions of the police at all, different forces appear to be using entirely different tactics. Let’s hope that Ms. Kennedy’s vision of Scotland as a “centre for excellence” includes a marked improvement in the treatment of native sex workers because as it stands at the moment, in some areas it is nothing short of disgraceful.
It is a shame that when I wrote to Ms. Kennedy some time ago suggesting that we meet, my request was completely ignored,in spite of her statement in her report which said that she wanted to meet with victims first hand, and hear their stories. Therein lies the ultimate irony, because as a sex worker in Scotland I am a victim too. I am a victim of prejudice, stigma, social isolation and hatred not to mention being at the mercy of the various police forces.
Had I had the chance to meet Ms. Kennedy, my suggestion to tackle trafficking was a very straightforward and simple one. Who are the people ( aside from the traffickers themselves ) who come into regular contact with the women who so desperately need our help ? The CLIENTS. Ergo, what is needed is a move to open the channels of communication between the police and the clients. Any client should feel able to phone the police, explain that he visited a flat and wasn’t happy with what he saw and KNOW that he can report it in complete confidence, with no long term ramifications for him, such as a record of him as a “punter”.
Secondly, I strongly advocate a dramatic improvement in the relationship between sex workers and the police too. Having read my rant above, you’d be forgiven for thinking I have a dislike of the police. Not at all, in fact when I came up against an abusive client who was engaging in stalking behaviour I found them to be very supportive and they couldn’t have been more helpful. However, whilst tactics similar to those that are happening in Aberdeen continue, then the gap will widen and a deeper mistrust will develop between “us and them”. If a woman phones a flat looking for a job and when she gets there finds foreign nationals in a state of fear, will she report it when she knows she will then be tagged for life as a “known prostitute” ? Thought not.
I’m off to find a suitable surface to kick repeatedly, but I’ll leave you with this wonderful quote from Ms. Kennedy –
“I take the view that the vast majority of women do indeed become prostitutes out of complex combinations of negative experiences, but for me the law should not make the judgement that, when a woman claims autonomy, she is in fact misguided.”