Jacqui Smith and the New Prostitution Laws in the UK

Caroline's picture

carolineAs I'm sure you'll be aware, the UK's Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is proposing to change the law on prostitution. Councils would be given more power to close down brothels, clients would be "named and shamed" and  sex with someone "controlled" for another's gain would be outlawed.

It's not a good move, let's face it. Throwing women out into the street and denying workers the right to a safe environment to work in (and this is a Labour government?!), fostering a climate of fear, don't get me started on "naming and shaming..." This is bad news, quite simply. How bad? Read more.

Now, sex workers and allies have spoken out against this in no uncertain terms. Cari Mitchel of the ECP said,

The plan is puritanical.

If they make solicitation illegal and start outing clients, men are going to be more nervous and women will be forced to make hasty decisions to survive economically.

The International Union of Sex Workers' Douglas Fox points out the apparently-not-obvious-to-Jacqui-Smith,

Most of the working population choose to work for or through a third party and therefore are controlled for gain. Sex workers are to be denied this basic human right taken as granted by the rest of the population.

Catherine Stephens (also of the IUSW) talks about the research that informed Smith's proposals -

Yesterday the Home Office announced new proposals intended to "protect the thousands of vulnerable women coerced, exploited or trafficked into prostitution in our country, and to bring those who take advantage of them to justice". It's a great story, with drama, heroism, anguish and a big white horse for Jacqui Smith to ride as she swoops in to rescue tearful hookers from foreign countries.

Unfortunately, it's pretty much fact-free and bears no relationship to the reality of the sex industry: it will in actuality increase the vulnerability of all women who sell sex, even privileged, educated, white, British passport holding women like me. How come?

The IUSW have also expressed their great concern that this law will do little more than push the industry further underground, endangering women who are already greatly vulnerable.

In short, there's lots being said by sex workers in the UK. See the IUSW's site for more. Problem is? Well, no one at Number 10 seems to be listening.

And let's be clear - it's not only sex workers who don't support this law (although given that they're they experts, one would have thought it would be enough).Commander Allan Gibson, head of the Met's anti-trafficking unit, said to the Commons home affairs committee, said he felt the laws would be very difficult to enforce.

There are also other MPs who have expressed their doubt. The Liberal Democrat's Shadow Home Secretary Chris Huhne believes,

The proposal to close brothels runs the risk of driving already vulnerable women underground and into the hands of pimps and pushers.

Also worth noting from Huhne -

Help for the victims would be more convincing if the Government hadn't slashed the budget for human trafficking investigations last week and shut down the leading unit.

Dominic Grieve, Shadow Home Secretary for the Conservatives, says -

Yet again, the Home Secretary's rhetoric is defied by reality.

The Government wants to rush through new criminal laws without any consideration as to whether they will work.

In the meantime, it neglects the basics of law enforcement - funding for the Met's human trafficking unit has been slashed, whilst the conviction rate for trafficking for sexual exploitation has plummeted.

And if I may quote Grieve further,

Take the blight of those trafficked into forced prostitution.

Last week Jacqui Smith proposed yet another law.
But what has she actually been doing about the problem?

Upper estimates of the number of women and girls trafficked into Britain for prostitution have quadrupled on her watch.

She's not provided any extra places in rescue hostels.

And convictions of those who perpetrate these barbaric crimes are down by 40%.

We don't need yet another Home Office Bill.

So what can we do? Even the media seem to recognise that this is very bad news for sex workers in the UK, a lot of what I've read has been supportive of sex workers rights (although, of course, there are many parts of the media who are very much not so much pro-Smith as anti-sex work in general).

There is a petition that has gone up on Number10.gov.uk - to defer any bill on prostitution until after the next general election. Signing this would be a good start to stopping Jacqui Smith's proposals coming to fruition.

As the petition states, you must be a British citizen or resident to sign it. If you are, I would urge you very strongly to sign it. If you're not, but you do support it then please do spread the word. If you have a website or blog it's most likely you have British citizens and residents reading, so please link, post widely and encourage others to do so.

Simple logic tells us that these proposals becoming laws spell very seriously bad news for UK sex workers, and sex workers unions have very clearly stated that these laws will endanger a great many women. So please do sign the petition if you're able and spread the word as much as you can.

If you want more, there's information on the IUSW page. There's also a blog about Prostitution Law in the UK, only recently started, which will be an excellent resource on this. I also have a page on my blog including links to further commentary. I've written a great deal on my blog and some on Shiraz Socialist.

Here's that link again, people!