11 Dec 06

International Union Of Sex Workers calls for decriminalisation of sex work to increase worker safety

The confirmed murders of three prostitutes in the Ipswich area and concerns for a missing fourth highlight the desperate need for decriminalisation of sex work, states the International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW).

“Sex workers are currently forced into dangerous working situations by the illegality surrounding their profession, and do not feel able to report offences or concerns to police for fear of arrest,” says Ana Lopes, President of the IUSW. “ASBOs and proposed laws to criminalise clients are forcing them into increasingly vulnerable situations. Decriminalisation would allow them to work safely and be protected by European labour laws. It is also an essential starting point to reducing stigma against sex workers which leads to their being even more vulnerable to attack.”

Prostitutes need safe areas in which to work, be that safety zones on the streets or brothels where they can work together indoors. “Sex workers are part of the community and should be treated as such, not as a public disorder problem,” Lopes states. “We believe ways can be found to manage street sex work through cooperation with workers so that any inconvenience to the community is minimised. Police forces need to develop strategies to decrease violence in cooperation with workers, groups and unions such as ourselves, and the local community.”

The IUSW supports the English Collective of Prostitutes’ calls for a police amnesty to allow prostitutes to come forward with possible information about the murders without fear of arrest, but urges that this be extended into a new framework through decriminalization whereby sex workers are always free to report concerns to police. Financial support and cooperation is also needed from government and police forces to support sex work projects running Ugly Mug schemes (early warning systems about violent clients for sex workers).

International human rights and workers rights laws, already in place, must be applied to sex workers as much as to other members of society, the IUSW states. The Declaration of the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe, endorsed in the European Parliament in Brussels in October 2005, identifies human and labour rights that sex workers are entitled to under international law. These include: the right to life; the right to liberty and security of person; the right to be protected against violence, physical injury, threats and intimidation; the right to equal protection of the law; and the right to work, to free choice of employment and just and favourable conditions of work.

The Sex Workers in Europe Manifesto, endorsed at the same time, represents the voices of sex workers from across Europe. It states: “We condemn the hypocrisy within our societies where our services are used but our activities are criminalised and legislation results in our exploitation and lack of control over our work and lives.” The Manifesto calls for the establishment of designated areas for street prostitution to enable those who work in public places to do so safely.

Lopes comments, “December 17th is the fourth International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers, the marking of which will be particularly poignant in the light of recent events. These murders highlight how urgent the need is to reassess the law and society’s view of sex workers to ensure they enjoy the same rights as the rest of their communities.”

For further comment please contact:

Rose Conroy, GMB Press & Media for London Region, on Rosie.Conroy@gmb.org.uk, tel. 07974 251823

IUSW President Ana Lopez on ana@iusw.org, tel. 00351917162817

The Declaration of the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe and Sex Workers in Europe Manifesto can be found at www.sexworkeurope.org

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