The law is there to protect you (unless you're a sex worker)!
In late June 2017 three Romanian women were arrested in Swindon following a raid carried out by Wiltshire Police. The women were detained and transferred to an immigration centre where they will eventually be deported back to Romania. Their crime: Sex Work.
In the UK, legislation surrounding prostitution is complex and fails to adequately protect Sex Workers. Instead, the law is demonising them whilst simultaneously forcing them to work alone in dangerous conditions. The selling or buying of sex outdoors is a crime alongside brothel-keeping (whereby two or more sex workers operate in the same building) and it is this second dimension which has resulted in the women from Swindon being served with deportation papers. It is a piece of legislation which actively targets Sex Workers rather than human traffickers or brothel managers. By restricting Sex Workers' abilities to work collectively in a safe and secure environment, the state is complacent in placing them in danger by forcing them to work alone meaning that they are more likely to be subjected to violence from their clients. This is simply unacceptable and fails to treat Sex Workers as human beings with the legal rights and protections that they are entitled to. The continued criminalisation of brothels encourages violent clients to act more aggressively towards Sex Workers because the workers are fearful about reporting violent incidents to the Police. Thus, violence against Sex Workers is likely to be a significantly underreported issue.
The three women in Swindon had been visited by Wiltshire Police’s Human Exploitation and Emerging Threats (HEET) Team who found that they had not been victims of human trafficking and were not being exploited by criminal gangs. This shows that they freely chose to engage in Sex Work as a legitimate form of employment; something that is recognised by EU regulation and is also described by HMRC as an acceptable form of self-employment. As a result, the law on brothel-keeping means that people are unable to share a property for carrying out sex work, despite it making them safer.
Wiltshire Police have claimed that they have made the women safer, but in reality, they are far more vulnerable now. Home Office deportation centres are well known for their violations of human rights where violence against detainees (especially women) is often described as endemic. It is consequently insulting for Wiltshire Police to claim that these raids have been a success in protecting this group of Sex Workers. Furthermore, this case highlights the issues faced by migrant Sex Workers who face violations of their rights as both migrants and Sex Workers. In 2015, the UN’s special rapporteur on violence against women Rashida Manjoo was refused entry to Yarl’s Wood Immigration Centre by the Home Office which raises questions over the transparency and accountability of our deportation policies and centres.
What we urgently need is a review of the legislation regarding Sex Work and the detention of migrants. This means including Sex Workers in the debate, listening to them in order to find out how best to support and protect them and we must involve them in future policy formation. Any reform will be absolutely ineffective without such action!
For a full statement on the Swindon raids from the Sex Workers Advocacy and Resistance Movement (SWARM) go to: https://www.swarmcollective.org/blog/2017/6/30/swarm-statement-on-the-arrests-of-sex-workers-in-swindo