Arrests, raids and prosecutions of sex workers appear to be increasing in London boroughs ahead of the Olympics. But critics say that the police are targeting sex workers themselves rather than the men who pay for them and sometimes assault them.
Cari Mitchell of the English Collective of Prostitutes insisted this week that “police crackdowns are putting sex workers' lives at risk”.
The Collective have highlighted a case in Barking where a gang of five men allegedly attacked female sex workers at knifepoint. They say that the initial response of the police was to threaten the women with prosecution for brothel-keeping. The gang are reported to have subsequently attacked other women, who were too scared to go to the police.
The London Crime Squad took over the investigation after the resulting controversy. They have now given a written assurance that no women reporting the gang will be prosecuted for prostitution offences as a result.
The Collective also say that 168 sex workers were arrested in Walsall during a 15 month period, but that there were no arrests of anyone who assaulted them, despite 10 assaults being reported to the police.
Women's rights campaigners are divided over the legalisation of prostitution. The English Collective of Prostitutes believes that decriminalisation will allow sex workers to work together and to report rapes and other acts of violence to the police without fear of prosecution.
Other groups argue that decriminalisation would lead to a proliferation of prostitution and therefore of exploitation. But many opponents of legalisation nonetheless argue that the police should target those who pay for sex work rather than the sex workers themselves.
The English Collective of Prostitutes said, “The number of sex workers is increasing as government cuts cause more poverty, homelessness and debt among women”.