Support sex workers during the Olympics – model letter to London mayor

Please use this letter as a starting point to write to the London mayor about the campaign from your women’s or feminist group, or as an individual.

For more info on the campaign as a whole go to the x:talk website

x:talk
Centre for Possible Studies
21 Gloucseter Road
LONDON
W1U 8HR

Boris Johnson
Mayor of London
Greater London Authority
City Hall
The Queen’s Walk
London SE1 2AA
22 March 2012

Dear Mr Johnson,
x:talk and its supporters are concerned that the policing of sex workers and sex establishments in the lead-up to the Olympics threatens to compromise the safety and autonomy of sex workers. In light of this, we are calling for a moratorium on arrests of sex workers with immediate effect until the end of the Olympic Games in London.

x:talk is aware of “clean-up efforts” targeting sex workers and sex establishments that are underway in London, particularly east London, in the run up to the Olympics. These efforts are partly a response to the claim – made by governments, charity organisations and campaign groups – that the Olympics will lead to an increase in trafficking for prostitution. This is despite the fact that there is no evidence that large sporting events cause an increase in trafficking.

These include multiple raids and closure of premises, which have resulted in arbitrary arrests of people working in the sex industry. This creates a climate of fear among workers, leaving them less likely to report crimes against them and more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. It is an inadequate response to sex work and to trafficking.

A series of violent robberies on brothels by a gang in December in Barking & Dagenham demonstrates the effect that this climate of fear can have on the safety of sex workers; raids on brothels and closures in the area had eroded relations between sex workers and the Police with the result that the sex workers who were targeted by the gang were unwilling to report the attacks for fear of arrest. The gang were able to attack at least three venues in December 2011.

In light of this, we are calling on yourself, in cooperation with the London Metropolitan Police, to suspend arrests and convictions of sex workers under the criminal laws laid out in Appendix 1.

We await your positive response.

Ava Caradonna
Director
x:talk
APPENDIX 1: OFFENCES TO BE INCLUDED UNDER MORATORIUM

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.

Soliciting

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 the brothel includes 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.[5] 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 removal, 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 raids 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.

About x:talk

x:talk is a sex worker led co-operative based in London. It runs English language classes that are free to workers from all areas of the sex industry. x:talk approaches language teaching as knowledge sharing between equals and regards the ability to communicate as a fundamental tool for sex workers to work in safer conditions, to organise and to socialise with each other.

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