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Great Gratuitous UK Prosecutions: the Florina Felia case

by on August 17, 2010

LIKE many court cases pondered over in this blog, that of Florina Ionela Felia results in more questions than answers. Florina is a 28-year-old Romanian woman whose home in Station Road, Hayes, was gate crashed by police last June.

The Uxbridge Gazette’s report of the ensuing court case informs us that this followed “a tip-off from a member of the public, who believed there were prostitutes working there against their will.” 

There were indeed sex workers present – four of them including Florina. All of them, it seems, were migrants, as Florina found herself acting as interpreter for the police (who we shall assume for the purpose of this post can speak enough English to at least get by).

All of this raises the first question: would the “member of the public” have bothered raising the matter if the women were not foreign; did they jump to the conclusion they may be trafficked merely because they were migrants; or did they just have something against foreigners?

And the second: why didn’t the police ascertain whether or not the women were under age or coerced and, if not, leave them alone? 

Harrow Crown Court was told that Florina “shared the house and the expenses with the other girls, none of whom were prosecuted.”

She, however, found herself charged with “assisting in the management of a brothel” (maximum penalty, seven years). Not actually managing it (which for some strange reason known only to the Home Office carries precisely the same penalty), but assisting in its management. Assisting whom, one asks?

Jack Griffin’s court report then becomes slightly vague. He writes:

The extent to which the three women at the flat were being coerced into prostitution was brought into question during the trial hearing, and Judge Arran was sympathetic to Felea’s case. 

Which, unless Judge Arran is not very good at judging, suggests evidence of coercion was pretty thin on the ground if it existed at all. It would have been nice if they had turned up to testify, but we can’t have everything. 

In any case, Florina Felia had not been charged with forcing anyone into prostitution, with controlling for gain, or indeed anything malicious in relation to her colleagues. Basically, she was charged with helping run the place, but there appears to be nothing indicating that she did anything other than muck in with the rest when there was housework to be done. 

If she was the only one capable of speaking English, however, it follows that she would have to take the bookings and generally deal with the outside world on a day to day basis by default. Even so, her own English, the case suggests, was far from perfect, as she required an interpreter for the court proceedings. 

She denied the charge of assisting in the management of a brothel, but admitted “permitting her premises….to be used as a brothel,” so the prosecution withdrew the assisting charge. 

Assuming the sex workers rented or leased the property, and hers was the name on the lease or in the rent book, this is likely to be a charge under Section 35 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956, with a possible three months imprisonment and/or a hundred pound fine for a first offence. 

Happily, Judge Arran seemed about as unimpressed with the Crown Prosecution Service as I am on this one, and let her off with a 12 month conditional discharge, which is about as much contempt for a prosecution as a judge can reasonably display in public. She left the dock in tears. 

That, however, will not be the end of the matter. Under that particular section, their landlord will either have to evict them or face the possibility of being legally deemed a party to any subsequent similar offence. Most landlords choose the former. 

So… 

What have we started out with here? Ostensibly, a concerned person worrying that some young women may need rescuing, and asking the police to make enquiries. What was needed? A visit, with a properly qualified translator in tow, to discover whether this was indeed the case. If not, job done. 

What did we get? Police raid the place, discover only one woman with whom they can communicate. She tries to help them talk to the others. They arrest her. 

First, she is held in custody (this is where taxpayers’ costs really do start, folks). Nobody seems to ask at this point what becomes of three foreign sex workers in Station Road, Hayes, who speak little or no English. Presumably the police have to get around to finding an interpreter. Quite what trafficking or other inquiries are made and for how long, we know not, but no charges have materialised. 

Florina was later granted highly conditional bail, involving being electronically tagged; an 8pm-8am curfew; daily reporting to the local cop shop; and having her ID card confiscated while awaiting trial. 

Another question: what did this cost and would any of these have been imposed if she and the other women weren’t foreign? 

So now what happens? Four foreign sex workers are presumably about to find themselves on the streets in Hayes, the streets being, of course, the most vulnerable environment for sex workers, with only one of them being able to speak a little English. 

Cost to the tax payer equals:

  • Cost of original police processing and raid
  • Cost of keeping Florina in custody and transport costs to/ from court etc
  • Electronic tagging & other bail admin costs
  • Police inquiry costs
  • Crown Prosecution Service costs
  • Legal aid for Florina
  • Interpreter’s fee at court
  • Normal Court admin costs
  • Costs resulting from establishing and contacting landlord re conviction

…and no doubt others I haven’t thought of.

And what have we achieved? We appear to have taken four migrant women and put them into a far greater state of danger than they were before, whilst giving one a criminal record and reducing her to tears. 

Yep, folks, it’s another product of our beloved UK Home Office and the Ministry of Justice. With Government departments like this, who needs Al-Kaeda?

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5 Comments
  1. Richard permalink

    Hayes? Forgive one who stays furth of England! Is this in the Met district (DI Kevin) or Thames Valley or where? What great intelligence is responsible for thus squandering my income tax?

  2. Hi Richard – it’s in Greater London – this one:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hayes,_Hillingdon

  3. Peter Mauley permalink

    Thanks for exposing once again the idiocy of the law and the enforcers of the law in this area.

  4. Meg Inwood permalink

    Just a tiny bit of background: I’m a woman living in a relationship with another woman who is a sex worker. Besides being a sex worker she also works as an outreach worker and administrative dogsbody for a sex workers’ resource centre in Toronto. I’ve never regularly made money from sex work myself – I’m just a little too queer to be able to enjoy having sex with men on a regular basis, whether professionally or recreationally – but that doesn’t mean I’ve never done sex work.

    I suppose I spend more time keeping track of sex workers’ rights issues than almost anyone who isn’t a sex worker or an academic trying to make a name for themselves by studying sex workers. And this kind of police action is all too common, in my observation and experience (although thankfully, my lady love doesn’t work from our apartment, so no cops have yet busted down my door!). It’s pretty clear to me that the reason this kind of action is so common – and becoming more common yet! – is to a large extent due to the campaigns of a number of organizations dedicated to a) eradicating sex work as much as possible, and b) (since [a] will never be fully successful) attempting to

  5. Meg Inwood permalink

    – sorry, my girlfriend’s head was on my lap and so was the laptop, and the comment got posted by mistake.

    …attempting to represent all sex workers as either coerced, trafficked, or self-deluded persons with no ability to control their sexual activity. They seem to find it necessary to prove that all sex workers are victims, either of their own “weaknesses” or of someone else’s power over them. Nor do they seem to feel restricted to the facts in such attempts.
    Unfortunately, and God knows why, officials seem far more ready to believe the opinions of persons who have never engaged in sex work than they are to believe the testimony of the workers themselves. There are many sex workers who migrate from their own countries to other (usually wealthier) countries in order to work independently – even if that means splitting the apartment costs with other workers.
    I lived on the streets of Toronto for half a decade, on and off, and was heavily street-involved for a few years longer. I knew HUNDREDS of sex workers. I never once met any person who was making a living from booking and arranging calls for the workers. I never met a pimp, in other words. Not once. Yet there are organizations in this city that publish articles discussing how street level sex workers are “put out on the street” by unscrupulous men. Now look, if these girls are working from the street, the unscrupulous men would have to spend a reasonable amount of time there as well, to keep the girls safe and make sure they weren’t cheating him.. So surely I would have met ONE, at least, in five to seven years!
    I’m not saying there’s no such thing as coerced sex workers. It does exist, and it’s rape and forcible confinement, pure and simple. But such situations are consistently misrepresented as the “majority” of cases by persons and organizations that have not engaged in sex work themselves, and have not even lived and worked alongside sex workers. So how can their observations be MORE valid than those of the workers themselves?
    It baffles me utterly how it is that insisting a woman is a victim when she believes otherwise will “empower” her. It confuses me completely that governments are ready to believe the opinions of people who haven’t been there over the testimony of those who have. And it infuriates me that the misrepresentations of sex workers that have been consistently pushed on mainstream culture carry so much more weight than the words of the workers that such an enormous amount of money can be wasted, brutality can be committed, and damage can be done to these women’s lives (well, usually women, anyway).

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