When prostitutes are made to disappear, most of society does not care, and most of the cases remain unsolved. Women in prostitution suffer higher rates of murder (the mortality rate for women in prostitution in London is 12 times the national average —according to Home Office, a UK government agency that deals with crime and policing), higher rates of rape (more than half have been raped and/or seriously sexually assaulted in the UK), and higher rates of physical violence (at least three-quarters have been physically assaulted).
But in 2006, Merseyside police declared crimes against sex workers hate crimes. The results are so astounding I cried reading them. In Liverpool, in 2009, police convicted 90 percent of those who raped sex workers. In 2010, the overall conviction rate in Merseyside for crimes against sex workers was 84 percent, with a 67 percent conviction rate for rape. The national average conviction rate for rape is 6.5 percent.
Over the years, I’ve seen my friends in prostitution who have been raped, battered and robbed receive poor treatment from the police when they have reported these crimes, though mostly they did not. They did not report to the police crimes committed against them because they had been, or knew others who had been, treated like a criminal and charged with something related to prostitution, dismissed, and sadly there were some who were sexually exploited further. These are some of the reasons why most crimes against women in prostitution are not reported.
But not so in Merseyside. In Merseyside, crimes against people in prostitution are being reported, the victims are being treated like victims and not criminals, and the perpetrators are being convicted.
After speaking with an exited woman about what needs to change for those in the sex trade, Fiona MacTaggart MP demonstrated her interest to protect those in prostitution:
Having been a victim of rape more than once, I have seen how poorly this is handled by police. I know what it feels like not to get justice and to live with the knowledge the men who have raped me have been allowed by the system to continue to rape other women.
The stigma attached to prostitution perpetuates victim-blaming. Much of society does not care for women in prostitution; they judge them, look down on them, and by some, they are deemed “unrapable.” My heart has broken listening to my friends tell me how it was their fault they were raped because they went to the hotel, got in the car, let the punter in their flat; there was no point in going to the police when they were to blame in the first place. Some of my friends did not recognize times they were raped until they had exited prostitution: they had frozen, unable to move or struggle; too scared to speak; and others because they’d ‘agreed’ to sexual acts due to fear of violence. This is rape. It is never the victim’s fault. There is never a reason or excuse to rape. There is no class of women who are “unrapable”. There are no women who deserve this.
The Merseyside model of making crimes against sex workers hate crimes allows the victim to feel safe in reporting the crime to the police. It also goes some way to reduce the stigma suffered by people in prostitution, which in turn will play a part in allowing them to realize when they have been the victim of rape, and to know that it is never, never, never their fault.
Mainly through lack of knowledge, most people do not understand women in prostitution. For anyone who would like to understand these women better, I urge you to read Voices of Prostitution Survivors freely here, or In Her Own Words… Interview with a London Call Girl, my charity publication, which you can get here for Kindle. This will give you insight into the emotional, psychological and social issues affecting women in prostitution.
There are some wonderful people fighting for the Nordic model (which criminalizes buying sex but not selling it), like many of those I interviewed for Human Trafficking Awareness Month. There are also those fighting against it. But one thing people from these opposing groups agree on, if their stance stems from care and not moral judgement or profiteering, is that the safety of women in prostitution is of paramount importance. Whether there is a Nordic model or not, we still need the Merseyside model.
As a human rights issue, a series of interviews will be published here over the coming weeks that will discuss the need for this model to be implemented nationally. With the permission of the interviewees, some of these interviews will be republished on other blogs from current affairs through to sex worker blogs, and we hope this issue achieves coverage in the national press.
Right now, in the UK, it seems the safest place for those in prostitution is Merseyside. We need to make the rest of the UK equally as safe for this group of people who are the most vulnerable and at the greatest risk.
Myself and Kalika Gold (a sex worker who blogs at diaryofavirginwhore.wordpress.com) disagree on other issues, but we are putting those differences aside to focus on this most serious issue—keeping women, men and transgender people in prostitution safe. On this, we wholeheartedly agree. Kalika will be creating a new blog on which a petition can be signed to make all crimes against sex workers hate crimes throughout the UK. If this is made law here, other countries will need to pay attention.
Below is an example of how in practice this policy works. The full article from the Liverpool Echo can be read here.
Sex worker Linda from Anfield was raped twice at knife-point in a terrifying attack carried out in 2007.
She fell into sex work despite a private education and supportive family.
She said: “The night I was raped I approached a man and asked him if he wanted to do business.
“I took him to a piece of waste land we used and we agreed on a price but when we got there he pulled a knife and told me he’d do what he wanted.
“He raped me and then told me to stay there and count to 10 while he walked off.
“I didn’t for some reason and followed him. I was about three or four steps behind whispering on the phone to the police.”
She was immediately taken seriously and as the case was put together she was referred to the Armistead Centre, who, through the Ugly Mugs scheme, warned other sex workers about him.
She said: “No-one asked any questions that weren’t relevant to the crime. Normally they ask about drug dealers and where you go to score.”
At court she gave evidence behind a screen but she had to go through a retrial after the first jury failed to reach a verdict.
Her attacker was convicted and given an indeterminate sentence.
Linda has now quit the sex industry, has her own home and now a new baby.
In a report commissioned by Boris Johnson, the London mayor, Andrew Boff, a Conservative member of the London Assembly, recommends all crimes against sex workers should be treated as hate crimes. Andrew Boff speaks briefly here and his full report can be read here.
Crimes against people in prostitution are not only hate crimes when they occur in Merseyside, they are hate crimes wherever they occur.
To read more about the success and the inner workings of the Merseyside model, please see the links below:
Photo of Liverpool courtesy of djmcaleese via Creative Commons 2.0.
Reprinted with permission from Ruth Jacobs at ruthjacobs.co.uk