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I’m writing to you as your constituent to raise a concern that I’d like you to raise urgently with the Home Office. On Friday, three sex workers from Romania were arrested in Swindon and are being held in custody prior to being deported. A fourth Romanian woman at a separate Swindon address was served paperwork by immigration enforcement officers stating she must find ‘legitimate work’ in the next 30 days. (See this news report for details on all four women.)
I have grave concerns about this police operation and the immigration action that has been taken as a result of it. The three women were arrested under brothel-keeping law, which highlights the huge injustice of this legislation – as even the police themselves acknowledge that all the women were sex workers, who typically share flats for reasons of safety. Members of the general public perhaps believe that brothel-keeping law is used to target managers, but here (and in many other cases) we see it is targeting sex workers for protecting themselves from violence. The effect of using the law in this way is obviously to force sex workers to choose between either:
- working with friends for safety but risking arrest, or,
- working alone, isolated and vulnerable.
I’m alarmed that Wiltshire Police are raiding and arresting sex workers on the basis of brothel-keeping offences, when this is clearly a dangerous way to apply the law. It is also contrary to the most up-to-date guidance from the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing, issued in February 2016 and and adopted by Police Forces in England & Wales, which emphasises that sex worker safety should be “paramount to the police service”, and highlights that “police responses must not increase that vulnerability by forcing sex workers into more isolated and dangerous locations, where they are more at risk of violent attack.” It emphasises that “brothel closures and ‘raids’ create a mistrust of all external agencies including outreach services. It is difficult to rebuild trust and ultimately reduces the amount of intelligence submitted to the police and puts sex workers at greater risk”. Clearly this action from Wiltshire Police will have had exactly this effect on sex workers in Swindon.
The guidance continues: “sex workers should not be approached as offenders per se but as people who may become victims of crime for whom police services have a responsibility to protect” and further reads that “a proportionate response … [involves] focusing enforcement on perpetrators of exploitation and those who commit crimes against sex workers”. It is clear that with regards to the three women arrested in Swindon this guidance has not been followed: they have been treated as offenders, and have been subject to a completely disproportionate response given that there is no suggestion that these women have ‘perpetrated exploitation’; nor have they committed any crimes against sex workers – they are sex workers.
I am further concerned about the woman who was told she must find ‘legitimate work’ in the next 30 days or face deportation. This is in direct contravention of a ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union, which found that that sex work performed on a self-employed basis must be treated as self-employment (see Case C-268/99 Jany & Ors [External relations], 2001), and as such enables the worker to live in the UK.
I am therefore asking you to urgently write to the Home Office, and ask:
- That police forces across England and Wales commit to not using brothel-keeping law to target small groups of sex workers sharing indoor workspace for safety – a commitment which would be in line with current policing strategy guidance and CPS guidelines on the public interest;
- That the three women who were arrested in Swindon be released, their deportation halted, and an apology issued to them by Wiltshire Police;
- That the woman told she must find ‘legitimate work’ in the next 30 days or face deportation have this immigration enforcement action against her halted immediately, and be similarly issued an apology by Wiltshire Police;
- That any property – particularly including electronics or cash – taken from any of the four women in the course of this police action be immediately returned to them.
Thank you for your speedy attention to this urgent matter,
[Your name, your postcode]