We join the ECP in their request that charges be dropped in the case of Ms O and Ms R who are both being charged with 'permitting premises to be used for prostitution.'
The content of our letter to Frank Ferguson, Chief Crown Prosecutor and others is as follows:
Dear Frank Ferguson,
Re: Ms O and Ms R Case number: 45RM4216719
We are writing to express our concerns about the prosecution of Ms. O and Ms. R who are being prosecuted under Section 36 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 with permitting premises to be used for prostitution. The case is due to be heard at North Surrey Magistrates Court, 8 January 2020. Although we are not privy to all of the details of this case, as the UK's largest sex worker support charity we must urge your reconsideration in this matter.
On the surface it appears that Ms. O and Ms. R are both sex workers implementing safety strategies common among off-street workers by working together for safety. This is in contravention of the law; however, the Home Affairs Select Committee’s 2016 report into prostitution recommends against the prosecution of women and enforcement of the brothel-keeping law that forces sex workers (predominantly women) to work in isolation. The reason that we have such problematic legislation is that sex workers are not consulted on how their safety strategies conflict with law. Individuals who work alone face a number of risks, which is why many workplaces implement ‘working alone’ policies to protect their employees. Although sex work is not illegal in the UK, sex workers are denied worker status, and have no access to the protections enjoyed by all other workers. Unfortunately, they are beholden to legal policies that are not based in their interests or in-line with their needs. Sex workers must then violate the law if they want to work as independents or subject themselves the varied working conditions of third parties operating in shadow economies.
Ms O and Ms R were working in the flat together for safety when they were raided by police on 19 September. They suspect that they were reported by someone who tried to extort free sex from them. This kind of exploitation is common as predators are aware that sex workers cannot call the police for help. During the raid the police took the week’s rent money and every other penny on the premises without providing a receipt. This confiscation of money and goods is also a practice that forces sex workers into desperate circumstances.
At NUM, we support sex workers who have the misfortune of being harmed during the course of their work. Our mandate to ‘end violence against sex workers’ includes predatory and situational violence but also extends to institutional violence. We receive between 80-90 reports of victimisation every month, sometimes as many as 15 in one day. Less than one month ago, on 17th December, we marked the International Day to End Violence Against Sex workers. Here in the UK, 184 (known) sex workers have been murdered since 1990 and in some of those cases, sex workers died because predators took advantage of the fact that they worked alone. We would love to chat with you about the extensive research that links criminalisation and violence. We need to formulate more sophisticated responses to safety issues for sex workers. In the interim, we urge you not to proceed with prosecuting these women in this case. Migrant sex workers experience heightened levels of violence due to their lack of status, xenophobia and other factors. Your criminalisation will not address the underlying reasons for their involvement in sex work.
The implications of prosecuting Ms O and Ms R are very serious. What sex worker in Surrey is now going to risk bringing themselves to the attention of the police if they need to report a violent incident? The 2019 NPCC ‘National Policing Sex Work and Prostitution Guidance’, a document that NUM contributed to formulating, makes important suggestions about how to best interact with sex working populations and acknowledges that enforcement, raids and other blunt instruments do not yield the desired outcomes of protecting sex workers from harm.
Dr. Raven Bowen
National Ugly Mugs
Office Tel: 0161 629 9861
Charity No: 1122461
Director of Public Prosecutions
Priti Patel MP
Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey
Chief Constable Gavin Stephens
Neil Coyle MP