English Collective of Prostitutes press statement
IPSWICH – A YEAR AFTER WOMEN ARE NO SAFER
END CRIMINALISATION OF SEX WORKERS
We send our deepest felt condolences to the families and friends of Gemma Adams, Tania Nicol, Annette Nicholls, Anneli Alderton and Paula Clennell. Sadly, a year after the tragic murders which took away five precious lives, and despite the unprecedented public outcry which demanded that ‘never again’ should women in Ipswich or anywhere face such violence, women are no safer. The crackdowns which force sex workers further underground making women more vulnerable to violence and exploitation and deterring them from reporting attacks, have returned.
Increasing numbers of people have been pressing for an end to the criminalisation of prostitution. Together with the Royal College of Nursing, Women Against Rape, National Association of Probation Officers, church people, residents from red light areas, anti-poverty campaigners, drug reformers and others, we have formed the Safety First Coalition. But the government continues to target sex workers and increase criminalisation.
Clause 72 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill (CJIB) now in parliament, introduces compulsory rehabilitation under threat of imprisonment. Clause 72 requires anyone arrested for loitering or soliciting to attend a series of three meetings with a supervisor approved by the court “to promote rehabilitation, by assisting the offender to address the causes of their involvement in prostitution and to find ways of ending that involvement.”
Women will be asked to demean themselves by revealing their most intimate circumstances while no resources are being made available “to address the causes”. Yet lack of benefits, debt, homelessness, low wages, loss of child custody, domestic violence, drug or other addiction and a record for prostitution offences which prevents women from getting other jobs, are known factors in driving women into prostitution. Failure to attend the meetings results in a summons back to court and a possible 72-hours imprisonment. If the CJIB is passed, magistrates will have powers to make subsequent orders so that women may end up on a treadmill of broken supervision meetings, court orders and imprisonment. Magistrates will still have the power to impose fines and send women to prison for non-payment of fines. Even the Magistrates' Association has expressed concern.
The government and particularly women ministers claim to be concerned with women’s safety. But since 1997 they have:
· Deterred women from reporting attacks with increased criminalisation.
· Increased maximum fines for loitering & soliciting to £500 for a first offence and £1000 for subsequent offences.
· Promoted the use of ASBOs which have reintroduced prison sentences for street offences by the back door.
· Doubled the number of women in jail. Most are there for ‘crimes of poverty’ including offences related to prostitution.
· Dropped the proposal that women should be able to work together from premises – which is 10 times safer than working on the street.
· Increased the penalty for running a brothel – two women working together often with a maid who provides security – from six months to seven years!
· Used anti-trafficking legislation to increase deportations of immigrant sex workers. Women ‘rescued’ in police and immigration raids are not given resources and helped to apply to stay, but deported.
· Widened the gap between rich and poor. Most sex workers are mothers, mainly single mothers are supporting families. While benefits for children have gone up the benefits for mothers and single people have not: a single mother with one child is expected to live on over £16 a week less than the government poverty threshold; a single woman is on half; debts and sanctions are imposed for truancy and proposed for lone mothers who cannot take up work, make their poverty even worse. The Home Office has reported that survival is the overriding motivation for prostitution.
· Introduced asylum legislation which deliberately makes women, including mothers, destitute.
Safety? What safety?
The English Collective of Prostitutes and the Safety First Coalition can be contacted at:
PO Box 287, London NW6 5QU
Tel: 020 7482 2496, 07811 964 171
For figures on poverty contact: PaulNicolson@z2k.org