Petition Decriminalise prostitution to promote safety

Even though their job is legal, prostitution laws prevent women from working together. Sex workers often have to choose between keeping safe and possible arrest, or avoiding a criminal record and putting themselves in danger. No woman should be put in danger by the law.

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About two-thirds of sex workers have suffered violence. Most sex workers are mothers supporting families, prevented from leaving prostitution by poverty.

The Home Affairs Committee recommended that sex workers be decriminalised. Amnesty International called on governments to decriminalise sex work and address poverty by providing a social safety net. New Zealand successfully decriminalised in 2003, improving sex workers’ safety, health and welfare.

We call on the UK government to promote safety by implementing the Home Affairs Committee recommendation to introduce legislation to decriminalise sex workers working on the street and together in premises.

Commissioned by the English Collective of Prostitutes.

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Government responded

This response was given on 11 June 2019

The Government’s priority is to protect vulnerable people from harm. We have yet to see unequivocal evidence that a change in the law, including decriminalisation, will strengthen this.

The Government is committed to tackling the harm and exploitation that can be associated with prostitution, and we take the need to protect people involved in prostitution from violence very seriously. Regardless of the legal position of prostitution, the law on rape and sexual assault is clear and unequivocal. We expect every report of sexual violence and rape to be treated seriously from the time it is reported, every victim to be treated with dignity, and every investigation and prosecution to be conducted thoroughly and professionally.

We are aware of different legislative approaches to prostitution around the world, such as those in New Zealand and in Scandinavia, and we are also aware of recent legislative developments in Northern Ireland. However, we do not currently have the evidence to demonstrate that a change in the UK’s prostitution legislation would be effective in protecting the vulnerable, which remains our priority. The law around prostitution in the UK is therefore focused on tackling the exploitation and harm that can be caused to those involved.

We continue to work closely with the police, Crown Prosecution Service, other front-line agencies and wider partners to ensure the legislation achieves these aims. The National Police Chief’s Council recently updated its National Policing Sex Work and Prostitution Guidance, in which the safeguarding of those involved in sex work is prioritised.

We do recognise the need to develop a better evidence base about prostitution and sex work in England and Wales. The Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) published their report on prostitution on 1 July 2016 and the Government response was published on 2 December 2016. As we set out in our response, the Government recognises the strong arguments for commissioning a research project into the prevalence and nature of prostitution in England and Wales.

Indeed, we believe that such an evidence base is vital prior to considering further changes to policy and legislation, and will work with other Government departments, researchers and academics to develop a comprehensive, impartial understanding of the nature, prevalence and composition of prostitution and sex work in England and Wales.

The Home Office has provided £150,000 to fund this research, which will be delivered by a team from the University of Bristol following a commissioning process led by the office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales. We expect that the final report will be published in Summer 2019.

We also provide specific support for individuals involved in prostitution and sex work, recognising that they can be particularly vulnerable to sexual and other violent crime, and may in fact be victims of child sexual exploitation or modern slavery. This is why our priority is to tackle harm and exploitation, whilst giving those who want to leave every opportunity to find routes out.

The Government continues to provide support to protect those working in the sex industry from violence and exploitation. The Government has provided £389,000 via the Tampon Tax to four organisations who provide specialist support to sex workers: One25; Street Talk; Women at the Well; and the Magdalene Group.

In addition, the Home Office has also awarded £650,000 to the Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner from the Violence against Women and Girls Transformation Fund to provide a victim-focused service for sex workers who are victims, or at risk of being a victim, of domestic or sexual violence and abuse, exploitation or human trafficking.

Home Office.

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