Safety is one of the most important concerns for women who work as prostitutes, particularly for those who work on the streets. I speak from personal experience when I say that women who work as streetwalkers are exposed to dangerous situations - ranging from assault and robbery...to rape...to homicide.
Here in the U.S., the average life expectancy of many women involved in street prostitution is only 34. To make this situation even more tragic, neither politicians nor law enforcement personnel nor the public have been particularly sympathetic to this plight of ladies involved in the life. Firstly, the illegality of prostitution in many countries, including the U.S., is partly responsible for this; secondly, in most countries - whether or not it is legal - prostitution is not socially acceptable. As a result, women who work in the life are marginalised; they are reluctant to report when they are victims of violent crime.
Whenever prostitutes have come forward to report they have been victims of beatings, sexual assault, or attempted murder, they are oftentimes met with a callous response, along with cruel comments such as "It's your fault", or even, "Well, you asked for it". Clearly, there needs to be a change in attitude towards prostitution within mainstream society.
Douglas Fox, who is one of the lead editors of Harlot's Parlour (for which I am a contributing writer) has written about this most eloquently; I have re-printed his essay below in its entirety, along with the link for the original article in the UK online publication Morning Star (although this is regarding a series of killings in the UK, it is relevant to the dangers faced by prostitutes all over the world).
- Marie Brown (Silky)
"MAKE SAFETY THE PRIORITY"
Posted by Douglas Fox
"I think we have to ask why the police fail to see that there is a connection between their enforcement of bad laws and an increase in violent attacks upon sex workers. As we have seen in Bradford and Ipswich and other towns the murder of sex workers seems sadly to be an inevitable outcome when vulnerable people are targeted by the police because of ill thought out legislation. Police enforcement disperses street sex workers forcing them to work alone and in more isolated and dangerous areas. Sex workers fearful of arrest both for themselves and their clients make quick and often lethal decisions. Because of ill conceived law and its enforcement street sex workers in particular become obvious and easy targets for those with violent and murderous intentions.
Clients are now the fashionable target for police operations. Clients however are not the problem. To suggest they are is the most simplistic and naive political posturing. The problem is the law that forces the most vulnerable and desperate people to work in dangerous circumstances. Fearful of violent criminals and of the law many street workers are caught in a trap.
Anti sex worker organisations will claim that selling sex is the problem. It is not.
The selling of sex itself is not the issue and neither is the purchase of sex but rather the manner in which, in this case street sex; is being sold and the reason for which it is being sold which is all to often to feed drug habits.
Criminalising both the sex worker and the client will not stop the transactions from taking place and neither will decriminalising the sex worker while criminalising the client. Getting rid of all the bad and unjust laws that prevent sex workers from organising their work safely would however be the most effective step we as a society can take toward tackling violence within the sex industry. It is simply common sense. If the government were to encourage local authorities to work with sex workers and with local support and out reach groups to establish safe areas where street sex workers could work in greater safety, areas where they could obtain the help they needed and where they could begin to establish a trusting relationship with the police, one that is supportive to both them and their clients; then things would change for the better.
Anti sex work groups will again argue that murders do occur even within so called managed zones. This may be true but the authorities job should be to try and prevent tragedy and not to encourage it. The sad reality is that because of police enforcement of bad laws sex workers are placed in greater danger and sex workers are murdered.
If we are serious about preventing tragedies like those in Bradford occurring again and again then the government must decriminalise sex work.
In the following article from the Morning Star on line the police in Bradford admit to taking robust action against sex workers and their clients. It is a policy that as we have seen over and over again leads to tragedy.
History has proven that criminalising sex work DOES NOT WORK.
Is it not time the government tried something new, something that has been proven to work. Decriminalisation in New Zealand is a documented success.
Decriminalisation has not over night stopped all the abuses within the sex industry, that will take time and patience and understanding. The New Zealand experience has shown however that positive change is possible and that the relationship between the police, local communities and sex workers can improve for the benefit of everyone.
New Zealand has shown that placing the safety and health of sex workers first above moralistic and dangerous political posturing is not only the sensible thing to do but also the right thing for a just and tolerant society to do.
Our government must now do the same. Decriminalisation, often confused with legalisation, is I firmly believe what the British public want. I hope the politicians are listening and that they do not continue to simply reinvent or to continue to enforce abusive and discriminatory laws that have failed and always will fail. I hope that these deaths in Bradford are not yet another tragedy in a long line of preventable tragedies. I hope politicians do the right thing this time and listen to sex workers, listen to out reach workers, listen to academics and listen to the the British public."