The proposed measures threaten the safety and incomes of sex workers at a time when economic conditions are worsening. It is likely to make sex workers more, not less, vulnerable, making it more difficult for workers to denounce cases of exploitation, abuse or assault at work.
The proposed legislation has been justified by ministers, including Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, as a means of protecting women who have been trafficked into the UK and are working in the sex industry against their will. But a host of experts have challenged the accuracy of the government’s statistics on trafficking. Labour MP Fiona McTaggart has claimed that 80% of women working in prostitution in the UK have been trafficked or are controlled by a ‘pimp’ or drug dealer, a figure the Home Office itself does not endorse. Even the Poppy Project, a government-funded initiative to support trafficked women, admits it is impossible to estimate how many women are trafficked into the UK. Professor Julia O’Connell of Nottingham University Davidson, who has done extensive research on trafficking and the global sex industry disputes the government’s numbers. [ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7819984.stm]
Previous government attempts to ‘rescue’ trafficked women have failed to locate large numbers of victims. In 2006, Operation Pentameter carried out 515 raids on indoor prostitution establishments in the UK and Ireland over four months, identifying 84 women and girls who were suspected of being trafficked. During Pentameter 2 in 2007, 822 premises were raided and 167 trafficking victims identified [ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7819984.stm]
In October 2007 Jacqui Smith refused to guarantee that women ‘rescued’ during Pentameter 2 would not be deported if found to be in violation of UK immigration laws. This strongly suggests that the proposed legislation is less about protecting women and more about enforcing immigration law.
We urge all trade unionists and allies to support the safety and rights of sex workers by opposing the proposed criminalisation and lobbying Members of Parliament to vote against the proposed legislation.
The x:talk project collective