7 Dec 08

GMB Publish Briefing On New Laws On Sex Industry Announced In Queens Speech
GMB sex workers say that proposals will at best be ineffective and at worst increase the danger and criminalisation that sex workers face
7 Dec 2008

GMB sex workers branch today published a briefing on the proposed new legislation on the sex industry to be included in the Policing and Crime Bill announced in Queens Speech on 3rd December. See full briefing in notes to Editors below.

The main proposals are

* criminalising paying for sex with someone who is controlled for gain (to be considered a strict liability offence)
* giving police powers to close brothels
* adjusting the wording of legislation on street sex work
* running marketing campaigns aimed at clients about trafficking and street sex work.

The briefing makes clear that GMB absolutely opposes any increased criminalisation of sex work. Increased criminalisation is against the interest of those sex workers who are our members and, equally importantly, it is against the interest of those suffering exploitation and coercion within the sex industry (through trafficking or otherwise). The GMB absolutely opposes trafficking and debt-bonded labour.

GMB is concerned that the legislation, though well intentioned will have a negative effect on everyone in the sex industry, and particularly the most vulnerable whom it is most intended to assist.

Catherine Stephens from the International Union of Sex Workers and spokesperson for GMB sex workers branch said “ People in the sex industry know that these proposals will at best be ineffective and at worst increase the danger and criminalisation that sex workers face. They go in the wrong direction. GMB will oppose these measures and campaign for a more constructive approach.

GMB seek the following measures instead. The GMB believes that sex workers should have:-

1. Full legal protection from harassment, violence, threats, intimidation and theft.

2. A review of existing laws and regulations governing the sex industry with a view to full and proper regulation in the interest of the workforce and the communities in which the industry operates.

3. The right to the full range of employment, health and safety and contractual rights.

4. The right to pursue alternative employment with support and assistance provided.

5. The right to full and voluntary access to all NHS services, including medical advice”

- Ends -

Contact Steve Pryle GMB press office on 07921 289880 or Rose Conroy 07974 251 823. Catherine Stephens is available for interview via GMB press office.

Notes to editors

Summary of GMB briefing on Home Office recommendations for proposed new legislation on the sex industry to be included in the Policing and Crime Bill announced in Queens Speech on 3rd December.

Home Office proposal which may be included in the Policing and Crime Bill

Following consultations, which involved members of the GMB, the Home Office has unveiled plans for possible legislation on the sex industry. The main proposals are

* criminalising paying for sex with someone who is controlled for gain (to be considered a strict liability offence)
* giving police powers to close brothels
* adjusting the wording of legislation on street sex work

and

* running marketing campaigns aimed at clients about trafficking and street sex work.

The GMB sex workers branch has drawn up a briefing on these proposals outlining GMB policy.

GMB position: summary

The GMB absolutely opposes any increased criminalisation of sex work.

Increased criminalisation is against the interest of those sex workers who are our members and, equally importantly, it is against the interest of those suffering exploitation and coercion within the sex industry (through trafficking or otherwise). The GMB absolutely opposes trafficking and debt-bonded labour.

Our concern is that the legislation, though well intentioned will have a negative effect on everyone in the sex industry, and particularly the most vulnerable whom it is most intended to assist.

Trades unionists know, and the history of the Labour Party shows, the solution to abuses within any industry is the promotion of full human, civil and labour rights for those working within it.

As recognised at GMB Congress 2003, criminalisation of sex work is responsible for the lack of employment rights, casualisation, stigma, widespread violence, exploitation and abuse in the global sex industry, and legislation does not provide adequate protection for sex workers.

GMB Congress 2006 declared its support for the full and complete decriminalisation of prostitution. The sexual behavior of consenting adults requires no regulation by the state.

The GMB’s role is to support workers in any industry: our priority is workers’ safety and workers’ rights. There are already laws against exploitation, violence, rape, coercion, trafficking and other harms these new proposals claim to address.

The existing criminalisation of sex work effectively excludes workers in the sex industry from the full protection of the law. Increased criminalisation will further exacerbate this exclusion.

GMB position: details

Many of the proposals, if fulfilled, will be almost entirely ineffective as legal instruments and are unlikely to achieve the desired outcomes, but will have the unintended consequence of further alienating people in the sex industry from society in general and the police in particular, and thus actually increase the likelihood of violence and abuse.

Clients whose behavior is least likely to be affected by this legislation are those already prepared to abuse and take advantage of sex workers’ vulnerability in law – murderers, rapists and robbers. If they are undeterred by existing laws against these crimes, they will not be affected by criminalising paying for sex.

There is nothing in proposed legislation that directly or indirectly enhances sex workers’ safety or offers additional support for vulnerable adults in the sex industry.

Although proposals will apply equally to men and women who sell sex, the political debate on sex work has focused exclusively on female sex work, and almost exclusively on trafficking for the purpose of prostitution, conflating trafficking with sex work.

The proposals apply across the entire indoor sex industry and focus on “control for gain”.

Controlling for gain.

Controlling for gain, as defined in law, is entirely unconnected with trafficking, exploitation or coercion. It covers almost every way of working with or for a third party; if this term were applied to other industries, actors, authors, models, many hairdressers, mini-cab drivers, anyone who works for any kind of temp agency or other third party who arranges their work, and most barristers in chambers could be considered to be controlled for gain.

Prosecution of clients of those controlled for gain requires no evidence of coercion, violence, abuse or exploitation. There have been successful prosecutions where it was accepted in court that the defendant offered a safe, fair and honest working environment to those who chose to work there: nevertheless they were guilty of “controlling for gain”.

All clients of all workers in all situations that could be defined as “controlling for gain” will be criminalised. Furthermore, they would be criminalised under terms of strict liability (customarily used for offences such as parking tickets). To abandon the principle that the accused is innocent until proven guilty for an offence of this gravity is contrary to the most basic principles of human rights and British law. It would be inexcusable even were the legislation proposed workable and effective, which it is not.

This is unjust and absurd when traffickers themselves do not face strict liability, but are entitled to a fair trial and the assumption of innocence till they are proven guilty – this proposal holds men who pay for sex more accountable than traffickers.

Trafficked workers, regardless of the industry in which they work, face gross violations of their rights. Women in the sex industry should not be defined by the area in which they work.

Brothel closure orders.

Giving police powers to close brothels linked to sexual exploitation will do nothing to ensure safety but do much to alienate indoor sex workers from the police.

There is in law no distinction between brothels (which definition includes two women working together for their own safety) with fair and safe working practices, and those in which workers are coerced, exploited or treated as slaves.

There are already laws which target sexual exploitation and if the police have evidence or intelligence regarding this they can act upon it.

Sex work businesses suspected of employing illegal workers or of mistreating their workers should be treated in the same way as establishments in other industries.

A better solution:

The debate around sex work customarily excludes those who sell sexual services, and the GMB has long worked to combat this through its support for and inclusion of a Branch specifically for workers in the sex industry. Inclusion of sex workers themselves, and recognition of the diverse realities of sex work, are the only ways to create effective laws for sustainable positive change.

The GMB believes that sex workers should have:-

1. Full legal protection from harassment, violence, threats, intimidation and theft.

2. A review of existing laws and regulations governing the sex industry with a view to full and proper regulation in the interest of the workforce and the communities in which the industry operates.

3. The right to the full range of employment, health and safety and contractual rights.

4. The right to pursue alternative employment with support and assistance provided.

5. The right to full and voluntary access to all NHS services, including medical advice

GMB have a longer 14 page version of this briefing which is also available

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