SWARM has recently learned that Police Scotland are attempting to recruit students in Edinburgh as informants in their enforcement of a “hostile environment” policy towards migrant sex workers. We urge students and the wider public to inform themselves of the reality of the police and immigration authorities violent treatment of migrant sex workers, and to resist these efforts.
Under the pretense of investigating human trafficking, police officers are seeking to encourage students to report flats occupied by Eastern European women that show “signs” sex work is happening there - for example, men leaving and entering the premises or residents being "unwilling to engage with neighbours". These attempts to encourage suspicion, profiling and criminalisation of our migrant neighbours who may or may not be sex workers, has extremely harmful consequences, both for those who are victims of trafficking and those who are not.
Police Scotland’s raids on indoor sex work premises have previously received strong criticism from sex workers and public health organisations for seizing condoms as evidence of illegal activity, showing their total lack of concern for the health of workers.
In November, police raided an Edinburgh flat occupied by sex worker Elena Isaila, charging her with brothel keeping offences. A Restriction of Liberty Order was placed on Elena for six months and she was ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work as punishment. Elena is a mother who was supporting her 17 month old son and 13 year old daughter. This is the cruel reality of police crackdowns on indoor premises.
We know that across the UK, police forces are using public concern for victims of human trafficking as a cover for stepping up arrests, detentions and deportations of migrant sex workers. Those who do come forward to police as victims of trafficking are treated with the same violent contempt -- recently a Thai woman who was trafficked into the UK sex industry and came forward to seek asylum was arrested and taken to Yarls Wood detention centre. She has been told she will be deported even though she faces great danger in Thailand.
Police Scotland cannot seriously suggest that reporting migrant sex workers is intended to support them in escaping sexual exploitation, when the hostile environment they are creating makes it impossible for those same workers to come forward and directly contact police themselves. Encouraging a social environment of suspicion between neighbours only encourages increasing ill-will towards migrants, as well as increasing fear and alienation for migrants who see themselves as being under constant surveillance. This initiative will only further isolate migrant sex workers, making them more vulnerable to abuse and coercion.
In addition, it will further encourage migrants to work outdoors - where chances of violence are significantly higher - to escape their indoor work spaces, which are also often their homes, being monitored and raided. It will further strengthen the existing effects of the brothel keeping law that encourages sex workers to work alone rather than together, making them more vulnerable to violence.
Migrant sex workers are members of the community that should be valued and respected. Many of them are students themselves, meaning that this initiative will encourage students to turn in their own coursemates, and encourage staff to report people that are often vulnerable and who they have a duty to protect. These informants will be wrongfully convinced that they are protecting these workers, when in fact their actions will put them in greater danger.
This initiative is the latest step in a greater trend in which police forces and immigration authorities around the UK are recruiting public sector workers such as doctors and teachers to act as informants against migrants and people of colour. Mirroring the Prevent agenda in which those working in education institutions have been encouraged to treat students of colour and Muslim students as suspects of extremism, it is clear that this is a form of xenophobic profiling that targets and criminalises migrant communities.
Police Scotland’s approach represents a shockingly cruel attempt to turn members of the public into informants that migrant sex workers will have to fear. It will result in further isolation of already marginalised people, and rather than combating trafficking, this will lead to individuals being more vulnerable to predators and danger. We call on Police Scotland to terminate this initiative immediately, and for students and education workers to refuse to comply.