Arresting people for brothel-keeping has never been easier nor more lucrative. In recent years, police have had
a vested interest in raiding brothels because of the potential assets they can seize under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. Since Clause 21 of the PCA 2009 was introduced, police only need suspect, rather than prove, that a brothel employs
trafficked or coerced workers in order to issue a brothel closure order, before seizing whatever money or goods they find, keeping 50 per cent for the force itself. Data for the number of closure orders is not centrally collected and
remains conveniently unavailable.
This is the reason that many are asking whether the police's pursuit of profit is compromising sex worker safety. In London in particular, a crackdown on prostitution prior to the Olympics is creating what the International Union of Sex Workers'
Catherine Stephens describes as a climate of fear .
She told me of how women running a brothel in a private rented property were accosted by 10-man gang: They broke into the premises one night when two of [the women] were working. One of the girls thought some of them were armed. When they went
to report the incident at the police station, the desk sergeant said, 'You do realise you're at risk of eviction if you carry on telling me what you are telling me?' He was more interested in nicking a couple of discreet sex workers for
brothel-keeping than arresting a violent, armed gang.
For every story like this, there are a dozen more. Up and down the country, incidences of violence and intimidation against sex workers now go unreported to the police. Better to risk a punch in the face than a prison sentence.
A series of gang attacks on brothels in east London has triggered calls for changes to the prostitution laws after victims who reported knifepoint robberies said they ended up being threatened with prosecution.
A police investigation has been launched as senior Labour and Conservative members of the London assembly and the English Collective of Prostitutes allege that violent crime is being given a lower priority than less serious sex offences.
What is said by sex workers to be a spate of robberies -- involving cash and jewellery -- coincides with an increase in police raids on east London addresses being used as brothels before the 2012 London Olympics.
The first address targeted was in Barking, east London, on 6 December. A video showing five men apparently breaking into another house in the area being used by sex workers is also being studied by police. The women who made the first complaint
allege they recognise some of the gang members from the YouTube clip.
In a third attack, at a different address, a woman who worked as a maid at a brothel is alleged to have been raped by the gang. None of the victims there reported the offence for fear of being charged by police with living off the proceeds of
prostitution; the police say they are so far unaware of this incident.
The ECP said changes to the law, in response to fears over the forcible trafficking of foreign sex workers into Britain, have made it more difficult for women to work together in houses for safety.
A letter of complaint sent by Niki Adams, a leading ECP activist who works with Legal Action for Women, to the borough police commander in Barking last month, said the way the investigation into the first incident had been pursued had discouraged
sex workers from reporting attacks .
In 2009, two men barged into a Woking flat with what appeared to be sawn-off shotguns. They poured petrol over the floors and furniture and threatened to torch the property. The flat itself was used by Cloud Nine, a small escort agency run by
Hanna Morris, her partner, and a female friend. Ms Morris immediately called the police. The street was cordoned off and sniffer dogs deployed. Convinced that the attackers were now on their way to one of the two other premises used by the agency,
Ms Morris provided the addresses to Surrey Police. These were later used as evidence against her. The investigation against the attackers was dropped and Ms Morris and her partner were charged with managing a brothel. They both received 12 month
suspended jail sentences, were made to work a combined total of 420 hours of unpaid labour and lost their home and life savings.
Rapists and other violent men often target sex workers assuming they cannot call the police.
90% of rapists go free, the organisation Women Against Rape said afterwards. Prosecuting Hannah Morris who tried to bring two violent men to justice is perverse. Rapists and other violent men often target sex workers assuming they cannot
call the police. If sex workers are denied the protection of the law, this vulnerability is magnified. The CPS and police should prosecute rapists, not victims.
Ms Morris' solicitor, Nigel Richardson of Hodge, Jones and Allen agreed: ...it is hard to see how a prosecution in this case can do anything but make would-be attackers more confident in their actions and increase the dangers for working women.
The words in Richardson's letter to the CPS have become all the more prevalent in cases recorded since: The prosecution of this offence is likely to directly discourage the reporting of crimes against potentially vulnerable women and thus
increase risks to their safety.