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Why Smith’s New Plans Won’t Work – Criminalising the Clients (Part 1)*

by on January 3, 2009
As you may have read, UK Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has laid out new plans aiming to “tackle the demand” for prostitution in the Government’s new Policing and Crime Bill, the Second Reading of which is due on January 19, 2009.

Centrepiece of a variety of measures is a plan to criminalise clients of prostitutes ‘controlled for gain’ by a third party with fines of up to £1,000, ostensibly in a bid to counter Human Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation (HTfSE). A ‘strict liability’ offence, ignorance by punters of prostitutes being controlled will be no defence. What you may not have read is that merely arranging a booking will be an offence – no sex need to have occurred.

But there are good reasons to believe the scheme will be counter-productive to Smith’s intentions, and constitute the latest in a line of Home Office own goals in the area of prostitution stretching back nearly 125 years. In this case, it will further endanger genuine HTfSE victims by making their discovery far more difficult.

Empirical evidence suggests trafficked women are far fewer in number than the Government cares to admit (more on this in a later blog). But clients (or ‘punters’) have a crucial role in locating those there are.
Let’s take just a couple of cases from the last few weeks, one in Wiltshire and the other in Devon, and introduce you to Detective Constable Amanda Carver and Superintendent Chris Singer of their respective police forces.

In Wiltshire on December 19, the local Gazette reported that three persons had been imprisoned for nearly four years between them for human trafficking, after a raid following a tip-off by a punter. Said DC Carver:

“This investigation was triggered by anonymous information received from a caring ‘punter’ and has undoubtedly curtailed the existing operations of these convicted persons and stopped their expansion.

It shows that Wiltshire police will act on such anonymous information and I urge other ‘punters’ who suspect that young persons are being used within the premises to contact either Wiltshire Police direct or Crimestoppers anonymously in order that we take the necessary steps to protect those involved and prosecute the offenders.

This is the first time this offence has been charged in Wiltshire. Countrywide it is also a very rare charge…Girls in this trade find it hard to talk out or ask for help through fear of repercussions to either themselves or their families.

We hope that this case will encourage others to come forward safe in the knowledge that Wiltshire police are committed to investigating any allegations received of this nature….”

One can imagine just how likely such a tip-off would be given the prospect of the punter’s reward, and possibly their friends, being £1,000 fines and having their names and photos splashed across the front pages.

And so to Devon, where an 18-year-old girl arrived in a Paignton pub on Wednesday, November 26, having allegedly been trafficked into a Czech brothel nearby. Staff or a customer alerted the police. Here we meet Superintendent Chris Singer seeking further information on the case in the local Herald Express. Said Supt Singer:

“Our appeal is for those who have knowledge of this address, either by working there or visiting for sex, to make contact with us and pass on any information about anyone they suspect may be of interest to us.

Their help could possibly safeguard the interests of people who may be innocently drawn into this hateful and inhuman trade in sex exploitation.”

Yes indeed, their help could possibly, but how possible would that help be if the Government got its way?
UPDATE JANUARY 9: Seven people are awaiting sentencing at Plymouth today after admitting their parts in the ordeal of a 29-year-old Thai women trafficked for sex. Again, it was a punter who tipped the police off about the situation – the very people Jacqui Smith and Harriet Harman are trying to alienate.
Unless our police spend all their time proactively raiding brothels, punters – love them or loathe them – are a crucial source of intelligence. Who else is likely to provide information on the whereabouts of HTfSE victims who, by all accounts, are virtually kept prisoner in brothels and rarely let out unless accompanied? The brothel management? The traffickers?
There are people, actually – the managements of the vast majority of brothels who use only voluntary sex workers and in whose interest it would be to expose those who don’t – but they’re criminalised already and have been since the Criminal Law Amendment Act Own Goal of 1885.

The mass voluntary and involuntary closure of brothels following that particular spectacular goal swelled the street prostitute population massively and created ideal conditions for Jack the Ripper‘s notorious Whitechapel Murders three years later.

That was “An Act to make further provision for the Protection of Women and Girls.” So we all know what that ‘protection’ led to. Jackie Smith’s new measure, she tells us, will “set out new protections for vulnerable groups, particularly women and children, by tackling demand for prostitution…” Uncannily similar.

It’s just a pity that that she, along with colleagues Harriet Harman, Fiona Mactaggart, Vera Baird and Baroness Scotland, seem intent on teaching us that women learn nothing from history either.

So be warned, British women! Time to emigrate or invest heavily in medical and life insurance! Your Government is about to protect you!


What you can do about it:

  • If you’re British, write to your MP, perhaps drawing attention to this blog, at
  • Contact your local paper/ media.
  • If you’re not from the UK, spread the word to UK citizens.


* Part 2 of this Why Smith’s New Plans Won’t Work blog will take a look at the past and present of the Scandinavian practice of penalising the punters, which originated in Sweden.

Parts 3 and 4 will look at other aspects of the Policing and Crime Bill affecting the sex industry –

Part 3 will look at the street scene, with plans to change kerb crawling laws and reintroduce compulsory rehabilitation for street prostitutes on pain of prison. Part 4 will look at the proposed brothel closure orders.

Further blogs are planned on HTfSE trafficking; Julie Bindel; and the UK Rescue Industry.

From → Legislation

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