OFFICIAL: POLICE CRACKDOWNS CAUSE VIOLENCE TO STREET SEX WORKERS, SAYS NEW STUDY
A NEW STUDY of street sex workers confirms higher levels of violence against them during police interventions such as kerb crawling clampdowns and arrests for soliciting.
The study, published by the British Medical Journal, is believed to be the first to quantify the greater violence levels in the outdoor sex market caused by the enforcement of anti-sex industry laws.
Homelessness and an inability to access drug intervention programmes – street workers are often class A or B drug users – were also linked to higher levels of violence, says Kate Shannon, who led the team of academics studying the issue in Vancouver, Canada.
The small street sex industry – believed to represent only 10 or 15 percent of the overall numbers of UK sex workers living from prostitution – has long been known to suffer much higher levels of violence compared to its larger indoor counterpart.
It has been the traditional hunting ground of serial killers from Jack the Ripper – whose 1888 murder spree was helped along by the UK ban on brothels three years earlier – through to Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe and Ipswich murderer Steve Wright.
Studies of street sex workers have previously observed the effects of criminalisation and enforcement-based approaches by police. These cause displacement of the sex workers, sometimes to areas they are unfamiliar with; sometimes to working at different, often more antisocial hours – during which they have to work longer to make the same earnings; and occasionally displacement to real crime, such as shoplifting or handling stolen goods. (More in my posting here.)
Police intervention also breaks up networks of street workers – which form an important informal safety mechanism – further jeopardising their wellbeing.
But this is the first in-depth study to actually measure the increased violence level and link it to police action.
An analysis of various policing approaches to street sex work, together with their downsides, can be found on this American policing site.
For the UK Government, the new study could be bad news for its infamous Policing and Crime Bill, now in the House of Lords. The Bill is likely to boost the street sex worker population by closing brothels for up to three months, and also includes moves to sharpen kerb crawling drives by denying drivers warnings, and to force street sex workers to undergo ‘rehabilitation’.
All this is on top of its most famous proposal – to criminalise men who arrange sex with a sex worker who subsequently turns out to have been coerced.
The new study has the somewhat frightening title of Prevalence and structural correlates of gender based violence among a prospective cohort of female sex workers.
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