A further belated report from Green Party conference from the fringe on the need to decriminalise all aspects of sex work, which I organised. I was really pleased that in addition to a high numerical turnout, around 50 at the peak, it attracted a number of our elected reps from England and Scotland, and had a very high quality of questions and debate.
Since I was chairing, I didn’t have time to take many notes, but the one issue that I want to highlight was one on which it might be possible to take immediate, achievable action.
It arose from the testimony of “Jenny”, a streetworker from Manchester who is caring for her disabled daughter. She explained how because prostitution offences (prostitution itself is legal in the UK, but many of the essential actions around it are not) show up on the “enhanced” criminal checks, such as those conducted for people wanting to work with children and vulnerable adults, for their entire lives, not lapsing as other offences do.
Given that many of the people being convicted for these offences are women, a significant number would be likely, were the option available to them, to be seeking this career option.
And if this were to be changed, even for women and men who aren’t seeking such a job, it would, in Jenny’s own words “take the stigma away”.
This is something that I hope many people could agree would be a good idea, and which I hope to work on further.
Jenny also spoke about harassment of sex workers on the street felt to her.
“What usually happens is that police will drive past and say ‘if you’re still here in 10 minutes, you’ll get arrested’. But the choice of going home, of ‘being a good girl’ is not usually available to streetworkers.
“I go out on the streets for a few hours when I need to pay a bill. But workers after the police have said that have no choice but to jump in a car, not to linger and check out the client as they usually would.
“‘Cleaning up the streets’ just encourages violence against women.”
We also heard from Cari Mitchell from the English Collective of Prostitutes, who brought a message from Claire Finch, the Bedfordshire woman found not guilty of brothelkeeping by a jury, stressing the reasons why she’d chosen, and believed other women should be able to chose, to work from the safety and companionship of shared premises, which the law now makes illegal.
Cari spoke about the ways in which since the passing of the Policing and Crime Act by the outgoing Labour government “the gloves are off. They’re now just trying to close down premises. In the coming months there’ll be three or four more similar cases [to Claire's]“.
She noted how police forces benefitted financially from raids, highlighting how in one case a worker had to fight in court to get her children’s savings back.
Discussion highlighted how different police forces varied in their attitude to enforcing sex work laws, and there were questions about the possible impact if the coalition policy of elected police commissioners was put into force. (Given that public opinion usually comes down squarely on the side of allowing women to work from premises.)
She noted that in Scotland a crackdown on streetworkers had resulted in attacks on them doubling.
(A useful outline of some of the problems with the 2009 Crime Bill. Highlighted as something new worth seeing highlighting the situation of sex workers in the UK was a Sky TV programme by Gail Porter on prostitution.)