Action alert received from the English Collective of Prostitutes

May 3, 2009 at 12:26 pm (Human rights, sex workers, voltairespriest)

This was sent to the blog email address the day before yesterday, and I thought it would be of interest to our readers. H/T – Cari Mitchell of the ECP.

Dear Friends,

We enclose below a letter from Legal Action for Women (LAW) asking for the prosecution against Ms W to be dropped. She is facing charges of assisting in the management of a brothel yet she was only an occasional visitor at the premises and her primary role was to ensure the safety of other women working there. She is due to appear at Highbury Magistrates Court on 6 May.

Despite Legal Action for Women’s efforts to get the prosecution dropped, the Reviewing Officer for the CPS based at Holborn Police Station has replied saying that the case has been reviewed and that “there is sufficient evidence to proceed” and that it is “in the public interest to do so”.

We urge you to write immediately to Kier Starmer the DPP expressing your concerns, copying the letter to Nazir Afzal Chief Prosecutor for London and to the Reviewing Officer (addresses below).

We enclose below a model letter and a list of points that you may want to raise in addition to whatever other concerns you may have.

Please copy any letter you send to us at

Many thanks,

Cari Mitchell

Kier Starmer
Nazir Afzal;
The Reviewing Officer, 9th floor, Holborn Police Station, DX475 London Chancery Lane, 10 Lambs Conduit Street, London WC1N 3NR

Legal Action for Women
Crossroads Women’s Centre PO Box 287 London NW6 5QU
Tel: 020 7482 2496 minicom/voice Fax: 020 7209 4761
Keir Starmer QC
Director of Public Prosecutions
50 Ludgate Hill
London, EC4M 7EX 28 April 2009

RE: Ms W

Dear Keir Starmer QC.

We are writing on behalf of Ms W who has been charged under section 33 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 with the offence “to assist in the management of a brothel” at two premises, one in Kingsway and one in Gray’s Inn Road.

Ms W had no responsibility for either flat. She is not a tenant, did not hold keys, and does not pay any of the bills. She was an occasional visitor and her role was to ensure the safety of other women. Two years ago, she bravely escaped from a violent partner after 28 years of abuse. She is presently struggling to support herself, her disabled daughter and elderly mother who is housebound having suffered a stroke. Any prosecution would have a severe detrimental effect on her mental and physical wellbeing and on the welfare of her daughter and mother.

In addition, this prosecution is not in the public interest.

1. Alleged complaints against the flats were found by police to be unfounded. The justification for this prosecution is that these flats were “nuisance brothels”. The police made four visits in one month to the Kingsway flat claiming that they had received complaints that a woman was heard calling for help and that there had been a serious assault in the flat. Officers visited and investigated and found no evidence of this or of any nuisance. PC Barrington, the local officer also visited the address at least three times during this period and found nothing to report.

In addition to these police visits there have been two raids on the Kingsway flat and one raid on the Gray’s Inn flat. The only charges to arise from these raids are for brothel-keeping offences.

2. There is widespread opposition, including among members of parliament and peers, to women being criminalised for working collectively and consensually.

There is no evidence of force, coercion, violence, abuse or trafficking at these flats. Why are charges being brought?

We call your attention to statements from ministers and other parliamentarians that women working together in premises should not constitute a crime. In 2006, Home Office minister Fiona Mactaggart proposed changes to the prostitution laws:

“Where women are working for themselves and are not being managed or pimped on a large scale, in the interim it is probably more sensible not to use the very serious penalties we have against people who run brothels. Very small scale operations can operate in a way that is not disruptive to neighbours.” (Daily Telegraph 18 January 2006).

The Home Office has acknowledged:
“ . . .the present definition of brothel ran counter to advice that, in the interests of safety, women should not sell sex alone.” (The Times 18 January 2006).

During the Second Reading of the Policing and Crime Bill (19 January 2009) Minister of State, Alan Campbell spoke against the criminalisation of women who “were simply making cups of tea, keeping the diary and helping to keep the women safe”.

3. Public opposition to the arrest and prosecution of sex workers is centred on concern for safety and an acknowledgment, particularly since the Ipswich murders, that criminalisation deters women from reporting violence and makes them more vulnerable to attack.

Ms W, like other friends and colleagues of women working in the sex industry, was the first line of defence against violent attacks. Charges of brothel-keeping being brought against women in this situation will force women to work alone.

4. The public is also increasingly concerned at police priorities which result in 15 officers raiding premises where women are working consensually while the investigation of rape and other violence continues to be downgraded and dismissed. Following the revelations of police incompetence over the trials of John Worboys and Kirk Reid and the publication of the damning IPCC report on police rape investigation, Women Against Rape, whom we work with closely, said

“. . . while the public make protection from violent crime their top priority for what the police should be doing, the Met and the Home Office have other priorities. . . . every day rape survivors comment on how terrorism, surveillance of protests, property crime and arresting sex workers take precedence over the safety of women and girls.”

5. Criminalisation institutionalises women in prostitution. Ms W has no convictions for prostitution offences. If she is convicted it will ruin her chances of finding other employment.

How can a prosecution be justified when there is no evidence of harm or nuisance being caused and where the prosecution would have a severe detrimental affect on a woman who is struggling to manage and has other vulnerable family members dependent on her? If this prosecution were to go ahead, many would view it as vindictive and persecutory. We therefore respectfully ask that you exercise your discretion and drop this prosecution.

We are available to answer any questions or provide any further information you may require. We would also welcome a meeting to discuss the issues concerning prostitute women’s safety raised in this letter.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Niki Adams

Cc Nazir Afzal, Chief Crown Prosecutor London
Dru Sharpling, Chief Crown Prosecutor
OBM Reviewing Lawyer, Holborn Police Station
Women Against Rape
Andrew Pelling MP

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