There are new laws being proposed that will give councils the power to close down brothels, “name and shame” clients, outlaw paying for sex with someone controlled for another’s gain and make kerb-crawling punishable as a first offense. The bill is due for a second reading on 12 January.
Before getting into an over-heated and lurid debate about the perceived rights and wrongs of the sex industry, and the best ways to stop trafficking, I want to start with a very basic problem inherent in the legislation. It puts people at risk. Specifically it puts disproportionate numbers of women at risk. They are put at risk by being increasingly isolated, being driven underground and by criminalising more people (thus driving them to act more secretively and therefore less accountably).
The proposals are opposed by the English Collective of Prostitutes, the International Union of Sex Workers and the Metropolitan police’s anti-trafficking unit, as well as a range of MPs from various parties, such as Chris Huhne (LibDem) and Dominic Grieve (Con).
If the people involved with prostitutes’ groups are not being consulted about appropriate safeguards or support requirements then we are putting ideology above the rights of people. Experience of similar legislation elsewhere bears out the concerns about the Home Office proposal.
Even before this legislation is enacted in England and Wales, the figures for attacks on prostitutes are horrific. Let’s not make them worse by getting sidetracked about the arguments for and against the sex trade. I quote from Caroline Shepherd at Feministe:
- In February, Steve Wright was found guilty of murdering Tania Nicol, Gemma Adams, Anneli Alderton, Paula Clennell and Annette Nicholls, sex workers working in Ipswich in 2006. Also that month, two men raped a sex worker in Swindon.
- In April, a man is alleged to have raped a sex worker working in Nottingham, England, The Bradford News reports a sex worker was allegedly raped in Leeds and a man was jailed for raping a sex worker in Manchester back in January 2007.
- In June, a court heard that a sex worker working in Liverpool
was raped at knife point in 2007.
- In July, a court heard how a sex worker was raped after a client refused to pay in Bolton.
- In August, a court heard that a sex worker was allegedly raped in Bristol back in November 2007, and Lubomir Kora went on trial accused of being part of a rape gang which was responsible for five attacks on Bradford (England) sex workers.
- In September, a sex worker was raped at knife point in Preston.
- In October, a man was sentenced to life for the rape and assault of a sex worker working in Northamptonshire, England. He is still being investigated by Northamptonshire Police for similar attacks on prostitutes in that area.
- In November, West Yorkshire Police pleaded for information after two sex workers in Leeds were raped. It is not known if these incidents are linked.
These are the cases that made it to court and the papers, God knows how many attacks happen that don’t even make it to the police station. Clearly, there is a group of women in society that are being completely and utterly let down by the law."