NUM joint letter with ECP, SWOU, ICRSE, Scot-Pep and nearly 30 academics experts

Dear editor,

We were appalled by Catherine Bennett’s recent article “Criminalise the sex buyers, not the prostitutes” (21/02/2016) which was so laden with moral objection and clouded by ideological fervour that it completely disregards the overwhelming evidence that criminalising any aspect of consensual sex work between adults impacts on the safety and human rights of sex workers.  The article is littered with inaccuracies and attempts to wilfully misrepresent reality.

The description of the 'managed-area' in Leeds as a "pimps’ paradise" exemplifies how the author uses incendiary language to distort the truth. Since the policy changes in Leeds the number of people selling sex has not significantly increased but sex workers are now far more likely to report to the police when they're targeted by offenders. This has led to the imprisonment of a number of sex offenders. Due to the changes in Leeds, the proportion of sex workers reporting incidents to National Ugly Mugs (NUM) willing to report to West Yorkshire Police increased from 15% in 2013 to one of the highest in the UK at over 52% in 2015.

We were astonished that Nottinghamshire and Suffolk, two of the areas in the UK where sex workers are least likely to report to the police when they’re targeted by offenders, were used as examples of good practice.  Only 4% of sex workers in Nottinghamshire and not a single one of the handful of sex workers in Suffolk, reporting crimes to NUM, were willing to speak to the police.

NUM recently carried out a survey of 220 sex workers and more than 50 organisations providing frontline support to sex workers. More than 80% said that criminalising the purchase of sex would negatively impact on sex worker safety. 96% of sex workers also said that that people should not be criminalised for buying sex.

What the author refers to as a “forceful lobby” opposed to the sex-buyer law includes the overwhelming majority of sex workers, frontline support services, academics and organisations like UN AIDS, Human Rights Watch, Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, The Lancet and Amnesty International.  As the Head of Sweden’s anti trafficking unit, one of the architects of the Swedish Model, said: “of course the law has negative consequences for women in prostitution but that’s also some of the effect we want to achieve with the law”.  If only its advocates here in the UK were as honest about their indifference to the safety of sex workers.
Yours sincerely,

Alex Feis-Bryce, National Ugly Mugs

Laura Watson, English Collective of Prostitutes

International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE)

Sex Worker Open University


Umbrella Lane Sex Work Support Services, Scotland

Dr Mary Laing, Northumbria University

Rosie Campbell OBE, University of Leeds

Luca Stevenson, Coordinator ICRSE

Professor Jane Scoular, University of Strathclyde

Professor Phil Hubbard, University of Kent

Professor Maggie O'Neill, University of Durham

Professor Teela Sanders, University of Leeds

Raven R. Bowen, University of Durham

Laura Graham, University of Durham

Michelle Stoops, Safe Place Merseyside

Prof Nick Mai, Kingston University

Dr Kate Brown, University of York

Scarlett Redman, University of Leeds

Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon, Birkbeck, University of London

Assoc. Prof. Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia

Emily Cooper, Northumbria University

Debbie Jones, Swansea University

Dr Sarah Kingston, Lancaster University

Dr Nicola Smith, University of Birmingham

Pippa Grenfell, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Gaynor Trueman, Specialist ISVA, Arch North East

Dr Anna Carline, University of Leicester

Dr Mark McCormack, Durham University

Dr Natalie Hammond, Manchester Metropolitan University

Dr Tracey Sagar, Swansea University

Professor Clarissa Smith, University of Sunderland

Dr Graham Ellison, Queen’s University, Belfast

Stewart Cunningham, University of Strathclyde

Rachel Stuart, University of Kent

Dr Billie Lister, Leeds Beckett University