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Danger increases as sex sells for less

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prositution issues, LondonResearch shows a worrying increase in the numbers of women in prostitution but a decrease in prices.

A report in February 2013 said that ‘saturation of the [sex work] market has increased competition, meaning that some sex workers are now selling sex for less money and providing a wider range of services, some of which present higher health and wellbeing risks.’

The report was produced by the Praed Street Project, a sexual health and support service for women from all over the world who work, have worked or are associated with any part of the sex industry within London.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Westminster Council’s Sex Worker task group’s April 2013 report said that ‘the risk of violence has increased substantially,” and that “female sex workers in particular [are] taking more risks.’

Through interviews with sex workers, the task group discovered that there has been ‘a 50 per cent reduction in prices over the last few years,’ which has resulted in ‘many sex workers accepting clients who appear to be more dangerous in order to make enough money.’

Councillor Ian Rowley, chair of the task group, calls the drop in prices a ‘collapse.’

At the start of its eight-month investigation into the health inequalities faced by sex workers in Westminster, the task group identified violence as the number one public health and community safety problem for sex workers.

Last year, London Assembly Member Andrew Boff published a report entitled Silence on Violence: improving the Safety of Women.

In that report, Boff wrote that all available evidence demonstrated that female sex workers were at a far higher risk of violence than any other group of women.

The extreme vulnerability of these women comes from a combination of factors, including the traditional focus by police on the illegal status of prostitution, rather than the violent crime being reported.

In 2005 a World Health Organization (WHO) report said that ‘among street-based sex workers, a majority of incidences of harassment, assault, rape, kidnapping and murder are not reported to the police.’

Boff’s more recent research corroborates those findings, and goes further, saying that gangs were increasingly attacking and robbing sex workers since they ‘believe that their attacks will be underreported’.

Trafficking is an additional concern, and a growing body of research shows that increasing numbers of women trafficking other women, often as a replacement for themselves in a brothel.

A study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that in some countries, ‘women trafficking women is the norm.’

One female former-sex-worker turned trafficker who spoke to the Guardian said, “I felt like I had stuck a knife in my own stomach, knowing what I was taking them to, but I could not stand one more day [in the brothel].”

Evidence from the Association of Chief Police Officers suggests that a minority of female sex workers in London are trafficked; however, due to the secrecy of both sex work and human trafficking, exact figures are impossible to gather.

Both Boff in his report and the Westminster task group call for ‘all crimes committed against sex workers [to be] treated as Hate Crimes,’ especially following the success of the Merseyside model.

The Merseyside model provides multi-agency support for sex workers reporting crime, something the Westminster task group is asking the Metropolitan Police to put in place, as well as for a particular focus on improved collaboration and communication between local government, the Metropolitan Police and health services.

The task group is also calling on police to make it a clear and well-communicated policy that crimes reported by sex workers will be addressed as a priority.

This includes prioritising such reports above petty crimes the sex worker may have committed and the basic illegality of sex work.

Helping sex workers, and particularly female sex workers, feel more confident about reporting crime could help remove violent offenders from society much sooner than might otherwise occur, and most importantly, could help save the lives of some of society’s most vulnerable women.

  1. It was surprising and disappointing however that that “study” did not include any reference whatsoever to exiting options for women in prostitution and virtually no reference to the demand – the men who want to buy these women and extort such risky practices from them and harm them with impunity.

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