By Esther Townsend.
On 18 June I joined over 30 sex worker and solidarity activists and campaigners for the launch event of the Stop the Arrests Campaign.
The campaign (begun by sex worker-led organization x:talk) is calling for a moratorium on sex worker arrests during the Olympics. Sex workers and activists in east London have already been seeing an increase in raids of brothels, closures, arbitrary arrests and police targets of sex workers amid unfounded claims that big sporting events increase trafficking.
The event encouraged open and interesting discussion on the campaign, sex workers’ organising and the variety of responses to, and perceptions of, sex workers. Speakers included author Brooke Magnanti aka Belle de Jour and author of The Sex Myth and author and campaigner Laura Agustin – who laid out the evidence which shows there is no past link between big sporting events and increased trafficking. We also heard audio-interviews with sex workers describing how current policing places sex workers in more danger, especially following the Policing and Crime Act (2009).
Georgina Perry, service manager for Open Doors, an NHS initiative that delivers outreach and clinical support to sex workers in eastLondon, described how they’ve seen an increase in brothel closures since 2009, despite seeing fewer migrant women in their service. Worryingly sex workers are losing trust in their service – when they move they’re not keeping in touch with the project because they see statutory services like the NHS as being linked to the police.
Carrie Mitchell from the English Collective of Prostitutes also read out a statement from a sex worker in east London who was one of the women attacked during a series of violent robberies on brothels in Barking & Dagenham by a gang in December 2011. After the robberies, carried out at knifepoint, sex workers were deterred from pursuing the attacks because police threatened them with prosecution. There were many more subsequent attacks and one woman was raped. Once the police agreed to an amnesty from arrest, sex workers were able to come forward. (More here.)
A climate of fear of arrest and targeting is forcing sex workers to take more risks – going underground, or moving away and not keeping contact with areas, support services and resources they’ve been familiar with. It’s vital that activists and campaigners support the Stop the Arrests campaign as part of a broader fight against stigmatisation, misinformation and discrimination and a fight for complete decriminalisation, sex worker rights and for sex workers to organise to control their industry.
- Campaign planning meeting Monday 25 June 7pm @ the Centre for Possible Studies,21 Gloucester Place, London, W1U 8HR
- Go to the campaign website for more information, materials and to read the evidence.
- Sign the petition and letter to the London Mayor.
Stop the Arrests presented the letter calling for a moratorium (still collecting signatories) to the London Mayor two weeks ago but have yet to hear back.