Submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee on Prostitution
from Women Against Rape
1) 'Whether criminal sanction in relation to prostitution should continue to fall more heavily on those who sell sex, rather than those who buy it.'
Criminal sanction should not fall on either seller or buyer. We believe that criminalising prostitution (whether the women, the clients or both) forces women underground and into more dangerous contact arrangements. Targeting men who have not been reported for violence just because they purchase sexual services diverts police time and resources away from reported rapes and sexual assaults. Recent scandals of police and CPS ignoring reports of mass rape and child abuse in Manchester, Oxford, Rotherham, Rochdale children’s homes across the country, and by prominent men protected by the establishment such as Jimmy Savile, show the urgent need to prosecute perpetrators who have been reported to the police.
2) 'What the implications are for prostitution-related offences of the Crown Prosecution Service's recognition of prostitution as violence against women.'
We disagree with the assumption that all prostitution is violence against women. Since we started in 1976 many thousands of rape victims, including many sex workers, have come to us for help. All have had strong views about when sex was consenting and when it was not. People who wish to ‘abolish prostitution’ have tried to muddy this crucial distinction between rape and consenting sex, whether the latter is part of a relationship, casual or paid for. Only the women involved can say if they consented to sexual activity or not.
3) 'What impact the Modern Slavery Act 2015 has had to date on trafficking for purposes of prostitution, what further action is planned, and how effectively the impact is being measured.'
Why is there a question on trafficking in this Inquiry when the claim that 80% of prostitute women in Britain are victims of trafficking has been discredited? The claim was shown to be based on racist assumptions that women with a foreign accent were likely to have been trafficked.(1) Women were not given a chance to say whether they were coerced into prostitution (i.e. kidnapped and raped) or working to make a living (i.e. sex workers). Claims that the nature of trafficking makes this impossible are untrue. Recent claims by the Human Trafficking Foundation ‘which points to police estimates that 50% of women working in London’s 2,000 brothels have been trafficked’ come from an ACPO report combined after speaking to police officers. The police have been shown to be using anti trafficking legislation to target immigrant sex workers for deportation – notoriously in Soho on a number of occasions and most recently in December 2014. Their claims were disproven as no victims of trafficking could be found during the raids, though they resulted in the deportation of a number of women.
4) 'Whether further measures are necessary, including legal reforms, to:'
- 'Assist those involved in prostitution to exit from it'
Prostitution should be decriminalised so that police priorities change from prosecution to protection of sex workers. Resources could then go into pursuing violent attackers. Crucially, women would not be burdened with a criminal conviction which prevents them leaving prostitution. Such convictions are a major obstacle to former sex workers accessing other jobs.
- 'Increase the extent to which exploiters are held to account'
Sex workers we have worked with describe the prostitution laws themselves as making them vulnerable to exploitation because of the discrimination brought about by a criminal record, and because the police prioritise prosecuting sex workers instead of the violence they report. Some women who have described being forced into sex work by ‘exploiters’ have made clear they were deterred from reporting to the police by fear of arrest; those who were immigrant feared that reporting could result in their being deported.
- 'Discourage demand which drives commercial sexual exploitation'
We do not subscribe to the view that it is only clients’ demand for sex which drives the sex industry. Women’s poverty and lack of viable alternatives is a major factor. This is particularly true in the current climate of austerity cuts which has affected women, especially single mothers. The government has drastically cut legal aid, benefits and other life-saving resources for women fleeing domestic and other violence, thus making women more dependent on exploitative and violent men by cutting off the escape routes poorer women used to have. A number of women who have come to us for help after reporting rape or domestic violence, have survived and supported their families by working in prostitution. No one has been interested in how they pay the rent and put food on the table, merely in criminalising them for their occupation.
Increasingly social services have been removing the children of domestic violence victims – a terrible injustice which deters many mothers from coming forward and reporting violence.