The Policing and Crime Bill which is set to come into effect this November, will, among other things, outlaw “paying for [the] sexual services of a prostitute subjected to force”.
The Bill must pass through the House of Lords once more before it becomes law. Based Swedish legislation. The overall effect of the new law could be to criminalise everyone who purchases sex and make sex work much less safe.
Catherine Stephens works as a prostitute dominatrix in London. She disavows everything the Bill claims to provide:
“Everyone in the industry will be less safe, and it will play into the hands of traffickers: people will be less inclined to report trafficking to the police, because it will mean that they are confessing to a crime. Things will be driven underground.
“With brothel closure orders, it will be less safe; police will have the power to close brothels on suspicion only, and this will drive the industry underground. It will be impossible to police, owing to the marginalising effect that the legislation will have. We will start to see establishments opening briefly and moving on. We will be unable to call the police if we find ourselves in difficult situations.
“All legal protection is being taken away from us. We are calling for the decriminalisation of sex work. We will not be happy with a situation like that in Nevada, where prostitution is legal but sex workers are not allowed into town alone or after five o’clock at night. Decriminalisation would allow us to operate safely and to be protected by the law without legislation that restricts our personal freedom.”
The International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW) also reject the Bill and they are concerned about the vague working of the Bill. A spokesperson told Solidarity:
“This would be the first British legislation on the sex industry that actually referred to coercion, violence, abuse or exploitation. However, in the House of Lords Committee stage, the government changed the Bill again to refer to ‘exploitative conduct’ rather than ‘force, deception or threats’. If legislation is created using vague terminology (threats not relating to violence, any form of coercion or deception) then the way the law is applied will be decided by case law.”
The IUSW is doubtful that this apparent fine-tuning of the legislation will have any practical impact on the way that the law is enforced, saying: “it is still largely at the whim of the police.”
The criminalisation of sex workers’ clients in Sweden has failed to combat people trafficking. Non-Swedish nationals who have been “picked up” by the police have been deported before being allowed to give statements, and their clients have been unwilling to testify as witnesses for fear of arrest.
The IUSW are particularly concerned about the effect that the legislation will have on migrant workers:
“As some of the most vulnerable people in the sex industry, migrants and victims of trafficking will be hit first and hardest. This law will increase the exclusion of migrant workers — if the presence of migrants raises the likelihood of being raided, brothels and agencies that attempt to operate safely will not offer them work, forcing migrants to accept worse working conditions.”
The IUSW are stil lobbying the House of Lords to try to stop the legislation.
Belinda Brooks-Gordon has published a detailed analysis of the government document Paying The Price: A Prostitution Consultation Document. In her study she highlights the fact that when the government began to formulate proposals for a new system for addressing sex work in the UK, the only models they considered were various versions of “criminalisation” and the Dutch model, which legalises prostitution in specific areas. The German model, which is in fact the only legislation to have come in since the European Convention on Human Rights and to conform to that convention, was never looked at.
Dr Brooks-Gordon told Solidarity: “The biggest success of the Swedish model, at least in the eyes of the government, is that it cleared sex workers off the streets. What they don’t tell us is where these people went. Some have been displaced from Stockholm and Malmo to other cities, and some have moved indoors and begun advertising on the internet instead, which means that they are unable to vet clients in advance.
“None of us want to work alone, but these people are being forced to. They have been deprived of the safety and camaraderie that a shared work environment used to give them. Sex workers themselves will be subject to arrest under the new legislation if they contact a colleague on behalf of a client. It is a case of female government ministers [such as Harriet Harman] wanting to be seen to be doing something for women without taking full account of the effect that their legislation will have on many women’s lives.”
• The IUSW petition to the Prime Minister is available here: http://p/petitions.number10.gov.uk/defersexworkbill/