‘It’s sex, not rocket science’: Legalize prostitution to protect sex workers, campaigners say

Reuters / Eric Gaillard
Campaigners in Coventry are calling for prostitution to be legalized, claiming that local police efforts to clamp down on the issue are leading to a dramatic worsening of sex workers’ conditions.

The English Collective of Prostitutes, which has campaigned for the legalization of sex work since 1975, says that current policing tactics are making prostitutes’ lives less safe.

They are calling for the UK to follow in the footsteps of New Zealand, which decriminalized prostitution 12 years ago.

Their current campaign follows the dropping of a controversial amendment to the Modern Slavery Bill in late 2014, when MPs tried to change UK law to resemble that of Sweden, where the act of buying sex, rather than selling it, is illegal.

Cari Mitchell, a spokesperson for the English Collective of Prostitutes, said changing the law would increase the level of safety for sex workers.

“In New Zealand the law that has been put in place is on the basis of health and safety,” she said.

“The laws offer regulation and cover in the same way you would with pubs and clubs. If you think about it, it’s not rocket science – it’s only sex. And consensual sex too, between adults.”

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“When prostitution is forced, it’s rape, and the police have to treat it as rape,” she added.

Mitchell said prostitutes were placed in unfair circumstances by current legislation because speaking out to the police could see them face criminal charges.

“The problem is when women are attacked they are too scared to come forward. If they are immigrants they fear they will be deported and if they are from the UK they fear being criminalized.

“I‘ve heard of women working indoors who have complained to the police about an attack and the next thing you know their property is being raided. It’s unbelievable,” she said.

She called the aggressive police tactics “outrageous,” saying the criminalization of their trade would result in mothers and children living in “appalling poverty,” being forced to turn back to sex work to pay off court fines.

“The most shocking thing is that the new CCTV cameras in Coventry are not being used to protect sex workers.

“There was a time when CCTV cameras would be used as a place to meet clients, because all the details would be caught on camera if something was to happen. The CCTV has to be used for women’s safety, not as a deterrent or a way to secure prosecutions,” she said.

The move to change UK law to replicate the Swedish model was met with a national protest from groups such as Hampshire Women’s Institute, Women Against Rape, the Royal College of Nursing, church groups, trade unionists, academics, lawyers and anti-racist and anti-poverty campaigners, who wrote to MPs urging them to oppose the legislation.

They were moved to oppose the proposals after it emerged that Swedish sex workers claimed they were treated far worse by the authorities after sex workers’ clients were criminalized.