This was an eye-opening meeting, where Laura, a representative from the English Collective of Prostitutes, informed us about the current laws on prostitution and how they are interpreted, particularly by the police.
Laura was well informed, and spoke of recent crack-downs on ‘loitering’ on the streets – this can be very loosely applied, and can lead to the break up of partnerships which would provide a much greater level of safety. Raids on women working indoors have also increased, and in some cases money has been confiscated and no receipt given. Any house with two or more workers is classed as an illegal brothel.
Our speaker told us how, of course, coercion and trafficking in the sex trade cannot be and is not condoned, but also pointed out that this is much less common than we are generally led to believe. The question then arises – why should consenting sex be criminalized?
Other common beliefs about prostitutes were debunked. Apparently there is no good evidence of a higher than average level of drug taking. Also our speaker claimed that prostitution is not about exploitation, violence and abuse, but about money. It can be seen as a viable alternative to little or no money. Perhaps this is the problem which should be addressed in our society?
Violence against female sex workers is very hard to report to the police in Britain, and it is unlikely any action will ensue. This was contrasted with New Zealand where prostitution has been decriminalized. Violence still happens, but here the victim can demand that the police take action.
There are groups in Britain calling for the criminalization of the client, which is already the case in several countries, such as Sweden. There is no reliable evidence that this results in a decrease in prostitution, and drives it underground where the sex worker is more at risk.
There are books, films and plays that attempt to educate people about the facts, and the ECP have a petition calling for the government to decriminalise prostitution.