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Government’s paradigm of evasion on sex worker rights

by on February 24, 2009

JUST FIVE and a half months late, the Government has finally ‘responded’ to the 734-signature Sex Workers’ Petition on the Downing Street site.

The petition called on it to reject calls to criminalise clients of sex workers and thus avoid the problems associated with driving prostitution even further underground. Instead, it urged decriminalisation  in line with Royal College of Nursing and National Association of Probation Officers policy, and the empowerment of sex workers with the limited rights recommended by the Council of Europe.

Predictably, whichever tea lady (should that be tea person?) accorded the task of responding on behalf of the PM merely regurgitated existing dribble and known facts, failing completely to address the questions raised by the petition. We blame the Home Office staff’s teachers.

Among the justifiably irritated signatories is Professor Anthony Grayling, Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, London, who wrote to the PM‘s office:

Your response to this petition simply repeats the proposals that we are petitioning against: you have done nothing more than to iterate the points against which the petition was raised in the first place. Your reply is accordingly a paradigm of evasion, and makes a mockery of citizen response to projected legislation. As this is a wholly unacceptable reply we ask that you think again, and respond again. 

Well done, Professor! But as it took them nearly six months to respond the first time, forgive me if I resist the temptation to hold my breath.

Successive Governments since Victorian times have lost all traction on the issue of prostitution, and the yawning chasm between de jure and de facto is poised to become even wider thanks to the Home Office’s new Policing and Crime Bill, which shows our legislature drifting off further and further into cloud cuckoo land, with less and less grip on reality, presumably fuelled by massive quantities of confiscated Class A drugs financed by dubious expenses claims for second homes.

“Never mind the quality, feel the width” seems to be the Government’s motto, as the Home Office’s new toy frogmarches its way through the parliamentary process to add to the 3,600 new criminal offences New Labour has created since 1997, at a rate not far off one a day.

Help needed for new Home Office Coat of Arms: How does one write “If it moves, imprison it” in Latin? Or maybe we’ve got the onus wrong? Perhaps we Brits should be born in prison and just allowed out for good behaviour?

The new Bill includes a measure allowing courts to send street prostitutes for compulsory rehabilitation sessions instead of fining them, because so bad have things become that the measure had to be dropped from the last Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill when it had to be rushed through to prevent a strike by officers in our much overcrowded prisons. Things may seem bleak now, but Britain, it seems, has a glorious future as the Alcatraz of Europe.

Despite notable attempts to talk some sense into the Home Office, notably by Dr Evan Harris of the Liberal Democrats at the committee stage, it looks likely that clients of prostitutes who turn out to have been ‘controlled for gain’ (nobody has come up with a satisfactory explanation of what that actually means since the Government invented the phrase in 2003) will face a fine of up to £1,000, irrespective of whether they knew of the control or not, and irrespective of whether any sex has actually happened.

This is expected to result in even fewer victims of sex trafficking being rescued, as punters (unlike the Home Office) currently form an important source of intelligence – somewhat less likely if they or their friends are going to find themselves in court and thus on the front pages of local papers.

“The Government has a Co-ordinated Prostitution Strategy,” claims the Government’s response to the petition. That’s a laugh for a start – any follower of the Pentameter anti-trafficking drives will know the Government’s strategy is about as co-ordinated as a millipede with multiple sclerosis.

Our only hope must lie with the fleet of Noble Lordships to attempt to restore sanity, not for the first time.

Meanwhile, we in the provinces must give up our habit of selecting the worst local undesirable who hasn’t actually been imprisoned or sectioned yet and sending them to Westminster for four or five years at a time.

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