the Disillusioned kid: Sex workers of the world unite!
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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sex workers of the world unite!

The serial killer targeting sex workers in Ipswich has now claimed at least five victims. As various commentators have pointed out, this killing spree and the consequent investigation, make a compelling case for the decriminalisation of sex work.

As Jim notes, "attempts to apprehend the Yorkshire Ripper (in the seventies and eighties) were held back by the illegality of prostitution - particularly as the police, then, took a hard line saying that any other crimes that came up in the investigation would be prosecuted." The police's insistence in the current investigation that they "are not interested in any other crime" is a positive step, but "this stops well short of what's needed - not just in this case - but in the host of unreported injustices that are meted out to sex workers in this country."

The English Collective of Prostitutes have released a statement (via) in response to the string of murder, presenting a series of demands:
* an immediate temporary amnesty from arrest for prostitute women and clients so that anyone can come forward to give information to this inquiry without fear of criminalisation or harassment; (Previously, women with outstanding arrest warrants either couldn’t contact the police or when they did were arrested. (See Criminalisation: the price women and children pay, English Collective of Prostitutes response to the government’s review of the prostitution laws, December 2004)

* an end to street sweeps, arrests and ASBOs against prostitute women and clients which have forced women into darker, more isolated areas making them more vulnerable to rape, violence and even murder. Women working under increased pressure are less able to look out for each other, have less time to check out clients and are forced to take more risks;

* a change in police priorities; money and resources being used to prosecute women and clients for consenting sex must be re-directed into vigorously pursuing violent men and protection of all women

following the example of New Zealand, decriminalisation of the prostitution laws, which by criminalising sex workers signal that women’s lives are not worth much. The police and courts don’t protect women and violent men think they can get away with attacks.

The police are telling women to look out for each other and come forward with information. But whatever safety systems that women have and will work out among themselves, they can never substitute for the police doing the job that the public overwhelmingly wants them to do – protect sex workers from rape and other attacks.

Over 70% of prostitute women are mothers. As poverty, homelessness and debt go up and women’s wages go down, more women (especially with Xmas round the corner) are forced into prostitution to support themselves and their families. Every woman is some mother’s daughter, someone’s sister, aunt, beloved friend . . . Every life is of value.
Unfortunately, Alice Miles (via) is almost certainly correct when she muses,
One thing I can predict with utter certainty: neither the Conservative nor Labour parties will propose the sort of steps that would have protected Gemma and Tania and Anneli and, as looks grimly inevitable, Paula and Annette. The solutions are too unpalatable for polite politics, which relies on middle-class votes in "nice" areas like Suffolk for election.
This doesn't preclude the possibility that changes can be achieved, it's just that - as is so often the case - they're not going to be brought in without a fight. This is a struggle that is already underway. Aside from the English Collective of Prostitutes, sex workers are also organised in the International Union of Sex Workers and even in their own branch of the GMB. Such efforts deserve support. Those women who find themselves forced onto the streets don't need moralising, they need to our solidarity. With a serial killer prowling the streets, their lives may depend on it.

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