40.The Home Office stated that the Government is committed to ensuring that legislation enables the police and others to tackle exploitation, and support those who wish to exit prostitution. The NPCC’s National Policing Sex Work Guidance is adopted by all police forces in England and Wales, and the NPCC advises that this guidance “should be used by chief officers to shape police responses to ensure that the general public experience consistent levels of service”.
41.The APPG on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade pointed out that policing and enforcement of prostitution is unevenly prioritised and resourced throughout the country, and that the lack of a centralised political strategy had resulted in disparate local enforcement:
Within London alone, one borough may be diverting women into exiting services whilst another is focused on clean ups and crack downs. Policing of prostitution is inconsistent because enforcement of legislation is resource intensive. It rarely becomes a policing priority unless an extremely serious case is reported.
42.End Demand, and other campaigners for the introduction of a sex buyer law, believe that enforcement is unfairly targeted at female sex workers rather than male sex buyers, saying that:
In 2013/14 there were more charges for loitering and soliciting (‘selling sex’) than for the crimes of pimping, brothel-keeping, kerb-crawling and advertising prostitution combined. Similarly, in 2014/15 there were 456 prosecutions for loitering and soliciting, yet only 227 prosecutions for kerb-crawling.
43.Sex Worker Open University agreed that there was clear evidence that sex workers were currently more likely to be penalised than buyers, and went on to explain that a variety of measures was used against sex workers:
[ … ] most criminal sanctions suffered by sex workers are not reflected in centralised prosecution statistics. They instead take the form of cautions, anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs), arrests and indeed simple harassment by the police. To take one example, Ilford police station arrested no fewer than 100 sex workers, handed out 236 cautions and issued 6 ASBOs in the year to September 2013. It is of particular concern that a so-called “prostitute’s caution” can be issued essentially at police discretion, without the supposed offender even making an admission of guilt.
44.National Ugly Mugs (NUM), a scheme to help protect people involved in prostitution from violent and abusive individuals, explained that sex workers were often victims of crime, but rarely reported these incidents to the police:
Almost 2000 reports have been made to NUM since July 2012, but only 25% of the victims were willing to formally report to the police. Of these, 283 were rapes, 86 were attempted rapes and 150 were other sexual assaults. Our 2015 survey with Leeds University found that 49% of sex workers are “worried” or “very worried” about their safety and 47% have been targeted by offenders. Yet 49% were either “unconfident” or “very unconfident” that police would take their reports seriously.
45.The National Policing Sex Work Guidance stresses the protection duty which the police have towards sex workers, and comments that “simple enforcement does not produce sustainable outcomes and can actually increase the vulnerability of sex workers to violent attack”. ACC Nikki Holland explained that, whilst each Chief Constable is autonomous in terms of their operational delivery, operational guidance is that crimes against prostitutes should be treated as a hate crime, and prostitutes treated as a vulnerable group in society. She added that the enforcement approach taken in Merseyside, where crimes against sex workers were treated as hate crimes, had been very successful: it had led to high levels of intelligence coming to the police from sex workers in relation to dangerous offenders, and was now promoted in operational guidance. Other witnesses praised the Merseyside approach as an effective way of providing protection for sex workers.
46.The National Policing Sex Work Guidance acknowledges the difficult role that police forces have in balancing local priorities and notes that the presence of visible street prostitution can have a negative impact on a community’s confidence and satisfaction. It states that street prostitution can be associated with a range of problems including harassment of women by men looking for prostitutes; littering from discarded condoms and syringes; noise; impingement on residents’ use of public spaces; fear of associated crimes such as drug dealing, robbery and coercion; fear of lower house prices and restricted business opportunities; fears for the welfare of sex workers and that children may witness soliciting and sexual activities; and traffic related issues.
47.Both Nottinghamshire and Suffolk Police provided evidence about initiatives they have implemented to reduce street prostitution which are based on intensive enforcement of kerb crawling legislation, and the provision of services to help sex workers exit prostitution. Neil Radford, Police Sergeant, Nottinghamshire Police, said that since the scheme was implemented in Nottingham in 2004, 1,590 men had been caught attempting to purchase a sexual act on the streets of Nottingham, 945 of whom had attended a one-day rehabilitation programme to address their use of prostitution; only 33 were known to have reoffended. Care packages to help women exit prostitution had reduced the number of street sex workers from 150 to just under 40. Suffolk adopted a similar strategy to Nottingham. Alan Caton OBE, formerly a police officer with Suffolk Constabulary, said that within two years of the implementation of a zero tolerance strategy in 2007, prostitution had effectively disappeared from the streets of Ipswich and over 80 women had been helped to move away from prostitution by the multi-agency team.
48.Leeds recently piloted a different approach, where street prostitution was permitted within a defined area of the city, at specified times. The area was policed for the reassurance of sex workers and to enforce other laws, including those relating to violent crime, robbery and public disorder. The rules of the managed approach were agreed between key stakeholder groups including the sex workers, the residents and local businesses. West Yorkshire Police said that the pilot had achieved a number of its stated objectives, but the tragic murder or a sex worker inside the designated area in December 2015 had led to significant negative media coverage and an upsurge in opposition to the scheme. The Leeds Strategic Prostitution Group is now re-evaluating its strategy.
49.According to CPS guidance, premises only become a brothel when more than one woman uses premises for the purposes of prostitution, either simultaneously or one at a time. Although the guidance highlights the aim of penalising those who organise prostitutes and make a living from their earnings, a number of witnesses said that fear of prosecution stopped them from working together, and so exposed them to the risks to their safety in working alone. Eva Klambauer, an academic at King’s College London, conducting research on the impact of legislation on the lives of sex workers, said that sex workers sometimes received ambivalent advice from the police:
Several women I interviewed have explicitly mentioned that when they called the police to report a violent attack, the police advised them to work together with other sex workers. They ‘turn a blind eye on it’, because their main concern is ‘to keep the girls safe’. Despite the occasional assurance of police officers not to target sex workers themselves, most independent sex workers I interviewed are afraid of working together as they are unwilling to risk being charged with brothel-keeping.
50.The English Collective of Prostitutes noted that the CPS policy for brothel-keeping prosecutions:
[ … ] says nothing about coercion or safety, but only about how long women have been working and how much money has been made. So no distinction is made between small collectives where women work cooperatively, keep their own money and set their own hours and establishments run by coercive bosses.
The International Union of Sex Workers said that in some cases sex workers were convicted under brothel-keeping provisions, even when there was no evidence of exploitation or third party involvement:
Women connected with the IUSW have received criminal convictions as a result of sending two dozen text messages—over a period of two years—ensuring another woman would be present for her shift at a brothel and for working from a holiday flat, rented for a fortnight, with another woman on the basis that both were running the brothel created by the other’s presence.
51.The NPCC Sex Work Guidance advises police forces to focus on how to make those involved in sex work safe and to conduct risk assessments before enforcing brothel-keeping legislation: “brothel closures and raids create a mistrust of all external agencies including outreach services. It is difficult to rebuild trust and ultimately reduces the amount of intelligence submitted to the police and puts sex workers at risk”. The Home Office acknowledged that sex workers sometimes choose to work together for their safety, and said that the CPS currently had discretion in terms of deciding when to prosecute for brothel-keeping offences.
52.Some organisations which already provide services to support women working in prostitution, or those who wish to exit, described the vulnerability of their clients, the barriers they face and their wide support needs. For example, Nia, a charity providing accommodation, advice and exit support, explained that women involved in prostitution faced a range of barriers, including money, housing, a legacy of childhood violence, coercion, mental and physical health issues, problematic substance abuse, having entered prostitution at an early age, lack of qualifications and having multiple criminal records.
53.Commonweal Housing, which runs the Chrysalis Project to provide accommodation and support in Lambeth to women who have been exploited in street prostitution, says that one of the main barriers to exiting is the involvement of women in a lifestyle and network of contacts that can keep them trapped in prostitution. Other problems include a lack of national guidance and strategy for supporting women to exit prostitution; lack of funding; and a lack of awareness among mainstream organisations such as the NHS, meaning that practitioners are not confident about raising prostitution with women and may not know the steps to take if a woman did wish to exit.
54.The Prison Reform Trust told us that women’s involvement in prostitution is recognised to be a driver to the offending of many of the women who are sent to prison, and that support to exit prostitution is one of the National Offender Management Service’s Nine Pathways to reduce reoffending. It recommended the development of local multi-agency partnerships that enable women to exit prostitution, and a coherent funding strategy for women’s support services. Some witnesses pointed out that programmes to support exit from prostitution were only likely to be effective for those sex workers who had made their own decision to leave prostitution, rather than if it was made a requirement for them to do so.
55.Many witnesses said that the key barrier for women trying to exit prostitution was having a criminal record. For example, Sex Worker Open University said that criminalisation of sex workers made it more difficult for them to transition into work in the formal economy, and that having prostitution offences on their criminal record could bar them from various jobs. Kairos Women Working Together, a support project for women in prostitution, stated that criminal sanctions for women in prostitution “can serve to trap and entrench them in a cycle of exploitation, offending and limited life chances” and recommended the removal of criminal sanctions for those selling sex.
56.Vera Baird QC, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria Police, recommended that:
57.We commend the police service for its focus on protecting sex workers, and for seeking to gain their assistance in targeting those who exploit them or commit other crimes. However, there is considerable variation in the policing approach to prostitution throughout the country, not all of which is consistent with national policy, as the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for prostitution and sex work, Assistant Chief Constable Nikki Holland, indicated to us. Moreover, police forces often have to choose whether to enforce offences for soliciting or brothel-keeping in order to reduce negative impacts on the local community, or to focus on building up the confidence and cooperation of sex workers in order to protect them from crime, and to help identify and convict criminals. While it is right that communities choose their policing priorities, it is not right that the police have to choose which laws to enforce and which to overlook.
58.We are very concerned that, despite there being no clear evidence that it reduces demand for prostitution, the current practice of treating soliciting as an offence is having an adverse impact, in terms of preventing sex workers from seeking help to exit prostitution, exposing them to abuse and violence, and damaging other areas of their lives, such as access to health and welfare benefits. Having a criminal record for prostitution-related offences also often creates an unsurmountable barrier for sex workers wishing to exit prostitution and to move into regular work. It is wrong that sex workers, who are predominantly women, should be criminalised, and therefore stigmatised and penalised, in this way. The current law on brothel-keeping also means that some sex workers are often too afraid of prosecution to work together at the same premises and as a result often compromise their safety and put themselves at considerable risk by working alone.
59.We therefore recommend that, at the earliest opportunity, the Home Office change existing legislation so that soliciting is no longer an offence and so that brothel-keeping provisions allow sex workers to share premises, without losing the ability to prosecute those who use brothels to control or exploit sex workers. There must be zero tolerance of the organised criminal exploitation of sex workers. The Home Office should also legislate for the deletion of previous convictions and cautions for prostitution from the record of sex workers by amending the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. In our final report, we will consider the purposes of the law on prostitution and what the research shows about how those purposes can best be fulfilled, including whether a different approach should be taken to on-street and off-street prostitution.
46 Home Office written evidence (),
47 The Guidance is available on the section of the College of Policing website
48 APPG on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade ()
49 End Demand ()
50 Sex Worker Open University ()
51 National Ugly Mugs ()
52 Oral evidence taken on , Q83
53 Oral evidence taken on , Q103
54 Rape Crisis Surrey and Sussex (); and oral evidence taken on , Q68
55 Neil Radford, Nottinghamshire Police ()
56 Alan Caton OBE ()
57 West Yorkshire Police ()
58 Eva Klambauer, King’s College London ()
59 English Collective of Prostitutes ()
60 International Union of Sex Workers ()
61 Home Office written evidence (),
62 Nia ()
63 Commonweal Housing ()
64 Prison Reform Trust ()
65 Laura Lee ()
66 Sex Worker Open University ()
67 Kairos Women Working Together ()
68 Vera Baird, Northumbria PCC ()
16 June 2016