New evidence shows criminalisation endangers sex workers

Thursday, 13, Aug 2009 05:22

By Ian Dunt

New evidence has been published which fundamentally undermines the
government’s arguments in favour of criminalising those who pay for sex.

The research comes from Vancouver and was conducted by the University of
British Colombia. It found a direct correlation between criminalisation
and increased violence against sex workers.

The research is highly problematic for the government, which intends to
create a new offence of paying for sex with someone who is controlled for
gain and introduce new powers to close brothels in the upcoming policing
and crime bill.

“Evidence from Vancouver and the UK shows that criminalisation reinforced
stigma and facilitates violence against sex workers,” a spokesperson for
the International Union of Sex Workers told

“We know that the government’s policies in the policing and crime bill
although they are described as intending to protect vulnerable women, they
will in fact increase the level of violence sex workers experience – both
indoors and out.”

The new research follows a damaging report from the respected Economic and
Social Research Council (ESRC) which found the majority of migrant workers
in the UK sex industry were not forced or trafficked.

It also concluded that criminalising clients would not stop the sex
industry and that it would be pushed underground, making it more difficult
for migrants working in the UK sex industry to assert their rights in
relation to both clients and employers.

Taken together, the research provides a devastating critique of the
government’s policy platform, which was based on an attempt to end the
trafficking of women into the UK to work in the sex industry.

The Vancouver research found the factors causing a prevalence of violence
could be “stemmed by decriminalising the sex industry”.

According to the report’s author, Professor Kate Shannon, factors such as
being forced to service clients in cars or public places, inability to
access drug treatment and a prior assault by police all correlated with
violence against female sex workers.

“The persistent relationship between enforcement of prostitution policies
(eg enforced displacement to outlying areas) and violence suggests that
criminalisation may enhance the likelihood of violence against
street-based female sex workers,” Professor Shannon said.

Over half of participants (57 per cent) had experienced violence at least
once in the 18-month follow-up period, from the first question session.
Almost four in ten (38 per cent) reported physical violence, a quarter (25
per cent) reported rape, and three in ten (30 per cent) said their clients
had been violent towards them.

“The findings support global calls to remove criminal sanctions targeting
sex workers,” Professor Shannon said.

A Home Office spokesman told “We want to offer greater
protection to this very vulnerable and exploited group of people. To do
this we need to focus attention on the people who buy sex so that they’ll
think twice about who they are buying sex from.

“But we also want to help those wanting to leave prostitution. This is one
of the key aspects of the government’s Prostitution Strategy which we are
continuing to implement.”

The policing and crime bill is currently at committee stage in the Lords.

© 2009$1318428.htm


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