Prostitution and the sex industry
In November 2004 I sent in the following submission to a Home Office consultation on prostition:
RESPONSE TO: PAYING THE PRICE:
A consultation paper on prostitution
LYNNE JONES MP, November 2004
It is my view that we need to get prostitution off the street. Prostitution cannot be eradicated but it can be controlled and managed. In 1996, The Parliamentary Group on Prostitution, of which I was a member, recommended a thorough overhaul of the law but this was rejected by the then Government. I enclose a copy of the Group's report (and I have marked the recommendations at the back), which included the recommendation to endorse driving licenses as a punishment for kerb crawling. I also include the Hansard record of a parliamentary debate I initiated on the subject in 1994.
In this document I refer mainly to women when discussing sex workers, as they represent the majority, and an understanding of the issue cannot discount the role of gender. However, this is not to deny that there are some male sex workers whose needs have to be addressed.
I believe that there should be a repeal of all laws which criminalise prostitution and that it should be regulated just like any other trading activity. This would mean that the law would only be involved if there were nuisance or disturbance or obscene displays. I am concerned to minimise the nuisance to the public caused by the activities of prostitutes and their clients and I am concerned for the safety of women in prostitution and of those people living in areas where it is illegally practised (I welcomed the action taken by the Government to make kerb crawling an arrestable offence and to implement the recommendation on endorsement of driving licenses).
There is also, obviously, a need to minimise the economic pressures on women to go into prostitution and to maximise the opportunities for them to earn a living in other ways. However, whilst there is a demand for such "services", then we have to accept that prostitution cannot be stamped out.
To summarise my view, I am not seeking overt recognition of prostitution. I wish to see prostitution decriminalised so those women whose work does not cause a nuisance can advertise their work discreetly from home or appropriately licensed premises and not be bothered by the police unless they are causing a nuisance. I would also wish to see women working in the sex industry offered assistance and opportunities to find alternative ways to earn a living. I do not believe that many women ‘choose’ prostitution for any reason other than that they have so very little choice.
In the debate I initiated in 1994, I read out the following quote from a resident living in an area with street prostitution:
“We do not just want to clear up our streets but also ask politicians to find a permanent solution for the prostitutes”.
Paragraph 7.31 of the current consultation addresses the issue of ‘temporary displacement’ and states that:
“enforcement crackdowns generally have a temporary effect, resulting in either geographical or functional displacement. Geographical displacement occurs when those involved in prostitution move to an area not targeted in the local crackdown. Functional displacement can occur when those involved in prostitution look to other ways to fund their drug use, most commonly through shoplifting and other types of theft.”
This issue of temporary displacement seems to me to be crucial. Systems which criminalise women just both shift the problem and exacerbate it as women are fined and turned back on to the streets to pay off their fines. This is why we have to look to decriminalisation if we are to protect communities from nuisance and keep women safe.
How decriminalisation might work
At present, whilst prostitution per se is not illegal, it is illegal for prostitutes to work together. Decriminalisation could work if we view prostitution as a service which should be tolerated, provided sex workers do not cause nuisance or disturbance or obscene displays. I am against the creation of “red light districts” along the lines of those that exist in Amsterdam or Hamburg but I think there is a case for the sex trade to be regulated through planning and licensing laws in the same way as, for example, takeaway food shops or betting offices. In the same way as a limited amount of business work can take place in residential premises (for example, I use one room at home as an office) working from home should be tolerated so long at it is discreet. It is important for women working in this situation to both feel and be as safe as possible and therefore, with the proviso that no nuisance is caused, it should be permitted to have a co-worker/companion so that a woman does not have to work on her own...
Allowing regulated, discreet advertising would reduce the need for well known ‘areas’ for women to attract trade. However, if a situation did arise where a street had multiple individual houses with two women working and, as a result, discretion was abandoned and nuisance caused, other laws to tackle the nuisance itself should be engaged, for example strict enforcement of parking regulations and of the law on kerb crawling to make it inconvenient for clients and high on the spot penalties for littering. These approaches, whilst initially resource intensive, can also raise revenue. However, as people get used to a system where prostitutes advertise and work from home, hopefully these problem areas would become less common.
If three or more women wish to work from one location (not private dwelling) this would have to be subject to planning laws and licensing, based on criteria to eliminate nuisance. The problem of women being forced out on to the street because they cannot fulfil the licence criteria would be averted by the legal option of two women being allowed to work from home.
Benefits of discreet advertising and two women working from a dwelling
- Two women could operate legally and independently reducing the need for pimps;
- Chaotic drug dependent women could operate from home without having to go through any unrealistic bureaucratic process;
- Nuisance to communities would be reduced as discreet advertising reduces the need for street walking and women sitting in windows;
- Women could join a union and organise to create safer working conditions;
- Women would be encouraged by decriminalisation to move away from the black market, declare their earnings and pay tax and National Insurance contributions –legal advertsing would provide evidence for inland revenue action on this point
- Health and outreach workers would find it easier to build up contacts to ensure women are safe and have access to services
Prostitution and the Prohibition of heroin and crack cocaine
The statistics show a clear relationship between prostitution and addictive class A drugs, heroin and crack. The problem of (mainly) women forced into prostitution to maintain a drugs habit requires a fresh look at whether the policy of prohibition is working, rather than the trade of prostitution itself. If we were to admit the clear failings of prohibition and move to a system of strictly regulated legal markets we might have a realistic chance of gaining some control of these markets which are currently under organised criminal control.
Ending prohibition would be seen as a radical step, but we cannot ignore the evidence of the failings of our current policy, which places a huge and often unproductive burden on the criminal justice system and the prison population. At present, resources which could be used to address the poverty and other underlying social problems which lead vulnerable young people into drug addiction and prostitution in the first place and in expanding treatment programmes are being used up by the criminal justice system.
I would like to see the Government engage in a consultation of how a Government regulated supply model could work.
Safe injecting rooms – reaching vulnerable women
An end to prohibition is obviously going to take years. However, the meantime, I want to see the Government introduce ‘safe injecting rooms’ (SIRs) such as those run in Spain, Switzerland, Sydney, Austria and in some German towns for intravenous drug users to reduce the risk of fatal overdoses, transmission of blood borne diseases, dangerous injecting practices and abandoned needles. SIRs could also be a key way of reaching the high percentage of women who fund their habits through prostitution, putting them in touch with drug services, harm reduction guidance and specialist sexual health services.
Experts believe that the two most important contributors to overdose deaths are haste and isolation. The injecting room concept removes these two risk factors so that, with more security, and with less panic and haste, a drug user is able to exercise a more careful judgement in self injecting. Add to this the presence of medical staff and the risks drop yet further. SIRs do not give an ‘overt’ message that drug use is acceptable or recommended. Moderation, supervision, prevention and treatment are constant messages.
The measures I have described above do not address the plight of women kept as slaves after being trafficked into this country to work in the sex industry. In a letter to me from Des Browne MP, Minister of State at the Home Office, dated 13 October (copy enclosed for ease of reference), the Minister states that the immigration status of victims of trafficking is dealt with on a case by case basis and that it is possible for discretion to be exercised to grant either limited or permanent leave to remain. To give victims of trafficking the confidence to come forward with evidence, I would like the Government to introduce guidelines so that the woman will be given the opportunity to regularise her immigration status, on the proviso that she is willing to give evidence in court. Whilst making this decision, trafficked persons should be allowed a reflection period of at least three months, allowing them to remain in the country legally while they recover from their ordeal. During this time, all trafficked persons should have access to specialist supported accommodation, based on the Poppy Project model; recourse to public funds and permission to work.
I also support the recommendations put forward by Amnesty International and urge the UK representatives on the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly to support a European convention on trafficking that contains the following measures:
1. Competent authorities should be trained to identify trafficked persons accurately;
2. Trafficked persons should be allowed a reflection period of at least three months, allowing them to remain in the country legally while they recover from their ordeal;
3. Trafficked persons should have access to a full range of assistance, protection and support;
4. Trafficked persons should not be held criminally liable for illegal entry into Council of Europe member states;
5. Risk assessments should be carried out by trained officials before any trafficked person is repatriated;
6. Victims involved in legal proceedings, or those at risk of abuse if repatriated, should have rights of residence or asylum.
- “Working Girls and their Men” by Sharon Boyle ISBN 1 856850633 1994. This reviews the laws on prostitution and details the views of those involved in the trade. I agree with the author’s conclusions.
- Article by Sara Mackenzie entitled The Morality of Prostitution may also be of interest (copy enclosed).
- Report of the Parliamentary Group on Prostitution July 1996 (copy enclosed).
- Report of the Working Party on Prostitution to the United Kingdom Programme Action Committee of Soroptimist International 1998/1999 (copy enclosed).