Press Release: Wed 6 June
CAMPAIGNERS CALL ON MAYOR OF LONDON TO STOP ARRESTING SEX WORKERS DURING 2012 OLYMPICS
“Policing practices are putting sex workers in danger and undermining their rights”
Campaign group, Stop the Arrests1, has today (Wednesday June 6) issued the Mayor of London with a letter calling upon him to use his powers to stop to the arrest of sex workers. The campaign group is concerned that the policing of sex work and sex establishments in the lead-up to the Olympics threatens to compromise the safety and autonomy of sex workers.
Signatories to the letter, which was initiated by the xtalk project2, include John McDonnell MP, Jenny Jones, chair of the Green Party, author Brooke Magnanti (Belle de Jour), Georgina Perry, manager of Open Doors – a sex worker health project operating in Hackney, and the UK Harm Reduction Alliance3.
The letter argues that raids and closures of sex establishments routinely result in arbitrary arrests, detention and deportation of people working in the sex industry. It points to worrying developments in east London where increased policing of the sex industry has endangered sex workers4.
Campaigners are calling on the Mayor and London Metropolitan police, in co-operation with the UK Border Agency, to stop to arrests, detention and deportation of sex workers with immediate effect until the end of the Olympic Games in London5.
Ava Caradonna, spokeswoman for the xtalk project, said of the letter, “We are pleased to have such broad support for this campaign and welcome the opportunity to raise this issue – an issue which is very close to our hearts – with the Mayor. We hope it will create a space among policy-makers, the police and the general public for a sensible, evidence-based discussion on the question of policing and sex work. We are hopeful that the Mayor will respond positively.”
Jenny Jones, Green Party chair and member of the GLA, said: “The Met seems to be slipping back in its understanding of civil liberties generally, but especially in its treatment of some of the most vulnerable people in our society. London’s sex workers need protection, not persecution.”
Brooke Magnanti, author of The Sex Myth, said “I support the campaign because it’s time for us to realise no matter how we feel about sex work, making criminals of the people in it is no solution. Historically, prohibition has never been an effective strategy and often causes more harm than it stops. London is a truly international city and must lead the way with compassion and human rights for all in our society.”
SCOT-PEP is a charity based in Scotland who promote sex worker rights, health and dignity. “SCOT-PEP thinks this is an important campaign because the recent increase in arrests and raids on brothels has created a climate of fear among legitimate sex-workers.”
Feminists Against Censorship have also been supporters of the campaign. They have issued he following statement: “FAC would like to express wholehearted support for x:talk and this campaign. We think it’s important because we believe in the right of sex workers to work as they see fit without discriminatory laws undermining their safety for the sake of “community concern” and apparent ‘protection’.”
Stop the Arrests will hold a campaign launch at 6:30PM on Monday 18 June at Centre for Possible Studies, 21 Gloucester Place, London W1U 8HR. To RSVP, please contact Stop the Arrests Press Office.
For further information, images or interviews, please contact the Stop the Arrests Press Office
m: 07901 335 613
NOTES TO EDITOR
1. Stop the Arrests is a campaign to stop the arrests of sex workers in London from now until the end of the Olympics. We are a coalition of sex workers and supporters of sex workers rights.
2. The xtalk project is a grassroots, sex-worker led organisation that teaches English and offers a space for peer-to-peer networking, translation and information-sharing in London.
3. A full list of signatories to date can be found here
4. Last December in Barking & Dagenham a violent gang carried out a series of robberies on brothels at knife point. Sex workers were deterred from pursuing the attacks after police threatened them with prosecution. Thus many more were attacked and one woman was raped. Once the police agreed to an amnesty from arrest sex workers were able to come forward.
5. A moratorium on sex worker arrests would seek to include the offences laid out below.
Suspension of offences that refer directly to sex workers:
- Soliciting (this should include soliciting penalties: rehabilitation orders and Anti-Social Behavioural Orders), s.1 (1) Street Offences Act, s.16, s.17 Policing and Crime Act 2009, s.1 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.
- Keeping a brothel, where the person deemed to be “keeping a brothel” is one or more of the people selling sexual services. Effectively, this means we are calling for a suspension of any arrests of sex workers who work collectively.
S. 1 (1) of the Street Offences Act 1959 makes loitering or soliciting for purposes of prostitution an offence. Section 16 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 amended s.1 of the Street Offences Act 1959 inserting the requirement that soliciting be “persistent”, defined as occurring twice within a three-month period.
A logical corollary of the suspension of laws relating to persistent soliciting would be the suspension of any new rehabilitation orders, as defined by s.17 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, and Anti-Social Behavioural Orders, as defined by s.1 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, that may follow breach of a rehabilitation order.
Keeping a brothel
S.33A of the Sexual Offences Act 1956, as inserted by s. 55(1) and (2) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, creates an offence of keeping, managing, acting or assisting in the management of a brothel to which people resort for practices involving prostitution (whether or not also for other practices). Prostitution is defined by section 51(2) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 as follows: a person (A) who, on at least one occasion and whether or not compelled to do so, offers or provides sexual services to another person in return for payment or a promise of payment to A or a third person.
S.33A therefore covers premises where two or more people provide sexual services at the same time. Where one or more person (who may or may not be offering sexual services) are found to be keeping, managing, acting or assisting in the management of that brothel they will be charged under s.33A. The required level of control over brothel activities varies but will be satisfied where there is evidence of a person seeing customers onto the premises, handling payments from customers, paying bills, placing advertisements in local papers (R v Alexsander Sochaki (2010) EWCA Crim 2708). However, we draw attention to the recent case of Claire Finch, who was unanimously acquitted of brothel keeping. Finch had accepted that she worked collectively from her own home providing sexual services and gave evidence it would be too dangerous for her to work alone. Finch’s barrister, relying on evidence that there had been numerous serious violent attacks on solitary street sex workers in Bedfordshire in recent years. successfully argued that Finch was entitled to rely on the defence of necessity.
Suspension of arrests of sex workers, administrative detainment and / or deportation, during the enforcement of offences relating to third parties:
- Sections 52-53 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 make it an offence to cause, incite or control a prostitute for gain. Section 54 defines gain as ‘any financial advantage, including the discharge of an obligation to pay or the provision of goods or services (including sexual services) gratuitously or at a discount, or the goodwill of any person which is or appears likely, in time, to bring financial advantage.’
Causing, inciting, controlling for gain
These offences, particularly s.53 controlling a prostitute for gain, are often the basis of raids1 and will be accompanied by the arrest of sex workers for immigration offences.
During the enforcement of these offences we are calling for a suspension of all arrests of sex workers, including arrests and deportation procedures for immigration offences.
Suspension of the closure of premises:
- S.21 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, which allows the closure of premises for up to three months where the police have reasonable suspicion that prostitution related offences (as defined by ss.52-53 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003) are being committed.
- Brothel keeping charges make it an offence keep, manage or assist in the management of a brothel and for a landlord or tenant to let or permit their premises for the purposes of prostitution: s.33A-36 Sexual Offences Act 1956. Those keeping a brothel, landlords and tenants might be informed that if the behaviour does not desist, and the premises close, they will be liable for prosecution.
Closure Notices and Orders
A Freedom of Information request issued by x:talk to the MET has revealed that in four of the five London Olympic boroughs only one closure order and notice has been applied for pursuant to s.21 of the Policing and Crime Act. However, the FOI states that “this response does not mean that no premises were closed, instead it confirms that no premises were closed in these four boroughs as a result of a notice issued under Section 21, Schedule 2 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 … premises usually respond to requests from Police to close and often other legitimate means of closing them are adopted, such as consultation with the landlord & follow through action resulting from that. Barriers to use of closure notices include civil court fees and consultation process.”
We therefore call for a suspension of police efforts to serve notices and close premises where they suspect prostitution offences are being carried out, whether in the pursuance of a closure order / notice under s.21 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, ss.33A-36 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956, or any other legal measure. However, it is important to note that our call for suspension does not apply to premises where child related prostitution or pornography offences are suspected (ss.47-50 Sexual Offences Act 2003). Our call relates solely to premises where prostitution offences under s.52-53 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 are suspected.