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New prositution laws: protecting women or putting sex workers in greater danger

Buying sex from a woman who is the victim of trafficking will be made illegal under new legislation. The law will also apply to men who knowingly pay for sex with a woman who has a pimp. Either offence could lead to a rape charge. In addition, new laws will also result in “kerb crawlers” being charged.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said she was tackling the exploitation and coercion faced by trafficked women, while also addressing concerns expressed by local communities over anti-social behaviour and street prostitution.

But the announcement of the new legislation has sparked outrage from campaign groups and sex workers’ unions. They argue that further criminalisation of the industry will result in prostitution being driven underground, resulting in sex workers who face attacks and unsafe conditions feeling unable to report offences. One sex worker told the BBC that she could not go to the police even as the law currently stands in case her history of drug abuse was brought up in court. These new laws would make her situation even more precarious.

Cari Mitchell from the English Collective of Prostitutes argued that the new laws would worsen the plight of sex-trafficked women in particular. She made the obvious and undeniable point that many women would be forced into lying about whether they had been sex-trafficked or working for a pimp in the first place. Mitchell also explained that threats of deportation played a further role in preventing the most exploited sex workers from coming forward and bringing the real culprits – the pimps and the traffickers – to justice.

Defend sex workers
The plight of Britain’s sex workers stems from a number of different factors and will not be solved by further criminalisation. In fact, the opposite is true.

Sex traffickers trick women, who may try to leave their country in order to seek a better life into sex slavery. When they arrive in another country, they are tied by force or financial desperation to work in the sex trade or risk the threat of deportation.

Pimps, meanwhile, can exert cruel control over their prostitutes precisely because they offer protection from violent customers and the law. In addition, Britain’s poverty-level minimum wage means that sex work can pay more than a McJob and women are forced into sex work to make ends meet.

One of the four key aims the International Union of Sex Workers, part of the GMB, is “the right to participate in and leave the sex industry without stigma”. Illegality pushes this key concern of sex workers off the agenda.

A strategy genuinely focused around the needs of sex workers would fully legalise the industry to allow workers to obtain any help they needed and control their conditions. It would aim to abolish racist immigration controls and deportations, which force women into industries run by criminals. It would introduce a minimum wage of £8.75 per hour so that young women could have a real choice when choosing an alternative profession to prostitution.

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