The Home Affairs Committee's inquiry into the way
prostitution is treated in legislation
Payday, a network of men working with the Global Women's Strike, 18
We are alarmed that the question of criminalising sex workers’ clients
is being discussed again.
“The Home Affairs Committee is launching an inquiry into the way
prostitution is treated in legislation. In particular, the inquiry
assesses whether the balance in the burden of criminality should shift
to those who pay for sex rather than those who sell it”.
We have been discussing this issue for many years in our network. We are
concerned that this will mean further pushing sex workers underground,
increasing their risk of rape or even murder. The vast majority of sex
workers are mothers trying to feed their children as best they can in
this climate of cuts and austerity. They are our sisters, daughters,
wives or partners.
We do not believe that if all clients were criminalised (some already
are), the burden of criminality would be “shifted” off sex workers. Sex
workers who work together for safety will still be criminalised. Sex
workers will be forced to modify how they work to try to avoid detection
and protect clients (their source of income) from arrest.
We are also concerned about the men targeted by this proposal. Theresa
May has criticised the discriminatory “stop and search” policy -- Black
people are up to 17.5 times more likely than white people to be stopped
and searched by the police in certain areas of the UK. To give police
more power in relation to sex work would result in more men of colour
and working class men being targeted and criminalised. Can the Inquiry
ask for the racial breakdown of arrests for kerb-crawling and for the
offence of “paying for sex with a prostitute forced or coerced”?
A police record for such a “crime” would bar men from jobs in areas like
teaching, social services, childcare, etc., despite the fact that no
breach of consent was involved.
In proposing to criminalise clients you would go against a rising
international movement. Sex work in New Zealand has been decriminalised
since 2003. The English Collective of Prostitute whom we support states
that decriminalisation “has been shown to improve sex workers’ working
conditions, while making it easier for those who want to get out, to do
Amnesty International voted in August last year to support
decriminalisation -- not just of sex workers, indoors and outdoors, but
also of clients.
At the symposium on decriminalisation in Parliament last November,
attended by hundreds of people, sex workers from 10 countries and a
panel of academics presented a compelling case for the “burden of
criminality” to be removed from everyone consensually involved in
prostitution on grounds of safety.
Currently a Bill has been introduced to decriminalise prostitution in
the New Hampshire legislature in the US.
Last but not least, criminalising consenting sex between adults diverts
attention from the investigation and prosecution of non-consenting sex –
that is of rape.
We urge the Select Committee not to propose to criminalise sex workers’
customers. In a climate of increasing poverty, the last thing that
politicians should be focussed on is attacking the basic rights of sex
workers (women, men and trans) and increase the criminalisation of
anyone involved in consenting sex .