The IUSW welcomes the statements by ACPO’s lead on prostitution and sexual exploitation, Assistant Chief Constable Simon Byrne, that it is time to look again at the laws around prostitution.
Law surrounding the sex industry are complex, confusing and ineffective in targeting harm. In fact, it makes sex workers’ lives more dangerous. There are already general laws to target violence, coercion and abuse, which sex workers are prevented from accessing through fear of the police, as there is an inherent contradiction between the police roles of protection and prosecution.
3,000-22,000 of the estimated 80,000 people who sell sex in the UK do so on street and are criminalised under the Street Offences Act of 1959 if they loiter or solicit; the Sexual Offences Act 1985 penalises kerb-crawling. The Policing & Crime Act 2009 tweaked existing legislation: the requirement for persistent behaviour by kerb-crawlers was removed and a definition of “persistence” for soliciting or loitering was given: twice in three months. That gives this profoundly vulnerable group of women the opportunity to have contact with the police four times a year without fear of arrest.
Over the past 50 years, this legislation has entirely failed to solve the problems associated with street prostitution. The most “successful” outcomes, resulting from expensive long term enforcement, are displacement (for example, street sex workers moved to Norwich as a result of increased police action in Ipswich).
Indoors, it is possible to work entirely legally, but the only way to be free of the risk of prosecution is to work for yourself in complete isolation. Two people working together fulfils the legal definition of a brothel, so the law builds in isolation at the most fundamental level; the owner or tenant is liable to up to 7 years imprisonment.
“Controlling for gain” – legislation on “pimping” – explicitly includes people who are working of their own free will and covers almost every way of working with or for a third party.
Prosecution requires no evidence of coercion, violence or abuse; there have been several recent successful prosecutions where it was accepted in court that the defendant offered a safe, fair and honest working environment to women who freely chose to be there.
Likewise, our legal definition of trafficking fails to meet the standard of either the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking (commonly called the Palermo Protocol) or the Council of Europe Convention on Trafficking. It refers to knowledge and intent, not coercion, deception or abuse.
Catherine Stephens, activist with the International Union of Sex Workers says, “The law doesn’t just fail to target violence and exploitation, it actually facilitates it. Would we be safer working together? Yes. Is that legal? No.”
A community’s worth is measured by the way it treats the most vulnerable. It is time to treat people who sell sex with respect and to prioritise our rights and safety. It is time to decriminalise sex work so people who sell sex have the full protection of the law.
The International Union of Sex Workers:
For our human, civil and labour rights. For our inclusion and decriminalisation.
For freedom to choose and respect for those choices, including the absolute right to say no.
For the full protection of the law. For everyone in the sex industry.
ONLY RIGHTS WILL STOP THE WRONGS.