Sex workers are not criminals

Women working in the sex trade need protection, not prosecution – which is why soliciting should be decriminalised

While Thierry is a sex-worker activist and Cath is an anti-prostitution one, believe it or not we do have some common ground: both of us are trade unionists, for instance, and both of us identify as feminists.

Obviously our analyses on prostitution/sex work are also very different. But despite our different opinions, there’s one thing we do agree on: sex workers shouldn’t be criminalised.

In fact pretty much all of those involved in the sex worker/prostitution debate agree with the repeal of soliciting laws, but because we’re usually too engrossed in fighting with each other, so far we haven’t managed to reach any consensus. And while we’ve all been way too busy arguing over other things, those most in need of our help, those for whose sake this repression needs to end, continue to suffer violence as a result.

Laws on soliciting are unfair because they target street sex workers/prostitutes who are often the most vulnerable. Consequently, it makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for sex workers/prostitutes to report the crimes they suffer and to get rid of pimps. In some cases, we’ve even heard testimonies of women who’ve had to give freebies to police officers to avoid their arrest. This is rape.

We believe the criminalisation of sex workers/prostitutes helps to legitimise those who attack them. People have to stop seeing sex workers as offenders, who they can exclude, discriminate against, or abuse. Indeed, we believe that if sex workers/prostitutes had the protection of the police instead of being harassed, crimes such as the murders in Ipswich in 2006 wouldn’t have been committed so easily.

Criminalisation of soliciting is a sexist law and it’s one that concerns all women, because any woman who goes out at night without being accompanied by a man can be suspected of soliciting. All women should have the right to occupy public and nocturnal spaces, legally, and without fear of harassment or violence.

Criminalisation of soliciting is also racist. It’s frequently used, for example, to arrest migrant sex workers/prostitutes and deport them. Victims of trafficking deserve our protection; they should have the legal right to choose to live in the UK for as long as they want, and they should not face deportation back to countries where they run the risk of being re-trafficked by those who trafficked them here in the first place.

Soliciting shouldn’t be an offence and it shouldn’t be classified as antisocial behaviour. If society doesn’t want sex workers/prostitutes working on the streets, then measures should be taken to provide those who are at risk of sexual exploitation with better economic options, routes out or professional reorientation, and harm-reduction help when they suffer drug and other addictions. Repression is never a solution: it only pushes those who are among the most vulnerable away into more remote and dangerous areas.

So, in the run-up to the election, we’re calling on all political parties and on the current government to put an end to the criminalisation of soliciting. In Cath’s view, this should go hand in hand with the further criminalisation of those who purchase sex, an idea which Thierry completely opposes, but on this one issue at least, we’re both in complete accord.



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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Women working in the sex trade need protection, but already have some protections in most communities. They need prosecution, not decriminalization because if they violate the Law, the prosecution may be their only deterrence, and by prosecution and obtaining convictions is the only way to make treatment and other sources available to those offenders, at least according to the data.

  2. Thank you for your comment michellefrommadison

  3. FYI for future reference, the National Human Trafficking Resource Hotline Number is: 1-888-373-7888 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              1-888-373-7888      end_of_the_skype_highlighting
    Thank You!

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