Rest in Power, Laura Lee

SWARM and ECP are devastated by the death of Laura Lee. Laura was a major figure in the sex worker rights movement; a fearless campaigner, a loyal comrade and, to many of us, a dear friend. Our thoughts are with Laura’s family and, in particular, her daughter Cat. Laura’s loss is unspeakably sad.

A sex worker for twenty years, Laura was a long-standing activist and a member of the Sex Worker Alliance Ireland (SWAI). She became a figurehead in the global fight for decriminalisation when she launched a judicial review of the 2015 law which implemented the Nordic Model – criminalising sex workers’ clients – in Northern Ireland.

After the DUP-sponsored bill was voted in, Laura said that Stormont had “sent out a clear message to the sex work community that they don’t care about us, one of society’s most marginalised and stigmatised groups.”

“With this case, I’m sending a message right back,” she said.

Laura took up the fight, winning the right to take the challenge to Northern Ireland's High Court. Laura claimed that provisions of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act contravened her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, including rights to privacy, health and protection from degrading treatment.

The date for Laura’s first hearing was imminent and she had planned to take the case onward, to the European court of human rights.

“A win for us in Belfast will have a knock-on effect and set a precedent across Europe,” Laura told the Guardian. “If successful up north there will be a challenge in Dublin and sex workers across Europe can use the precedent to overturn the so-called ‘Nordic model’ in their countries.”

Laura was passionate that sex workers should be able to work in safety and her fearless pursuit of this goal brought her into conflict with the establishment in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. Laura endured shocking levels of harassment, scrutiny and public humiliation from politicians, pro-criminalisation feminists and religious fundamentalists.

Laura kept going despite the backlash, her good humour and dedication allowing her to rise above the hate. “I am dogged in my determination to fight this law on behalf of all sex workers, especially the ones that can’t put their heads above the parapet,” she said. “I am strong enough to do so.”

Laura’s energy and bravery were inspirational and the sex work community will always remember her with love and gratitude.

Rest in power, Laura Lee. Thank you for everything.






International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers: join us on DECEMBER 18th OUTSIDE THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT!

On December 17th, International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers (#IDEVASW), thousands of sex workers and sex worker-led organisations around the world will gather to commemorate the sex workers who have lost their lives. Last year, the list included more than 150 sex workers murdered between January 1 and December 1, 2016.

IDEVASW began in 2003 to remember the sex workers who were murdered by Seattle’s Green River Killer in the US. This year, the Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement (SWARM) and the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) will create a memorial outside the Houses of Parliament on December 18th. We will be calling on MPs to join us and hear our demand for an end to the criminalisation, stigma and poverty which make us vulnerable to all kinds of violence and exploitation.

Monday December 18th: during this public event - from 12-2pm - we will be building a memorial in New Palace Yard, outside the Houses of Parliament with a roll call of those killed since 2016.

December 18th marks the closing date for the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) inquiry into “pop up brothels”. Despite calls for decriminalisation from sex workers around the globe, the APPG is currently proposing that the UK increases criminalisation of the industry, putting workers at an even greater risk. Criminalising us, our workplaces, our clients, our friends, or anyone we work with or rely on for support, makes us less safe. We can’t report violence to the police for fear of arrest. Street based sex workers, trans women, migrants and sex workers of colour face added risk of violence. 


PLEASE CONTACT YOUR MP and invite them to this event. Don’t let them ignore the voices of sex workers! You can use our letter template (it'll take you 60 seconds!)



SWARM Statement on the APPG on Prostitution's launch of an inquiry into "pop up brothels"

While SWARM joins calls for a greater understanding of the UK sex industry, in all its forms, we are concerned that the inquiry launched today by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Prostitution fails from its outset to take a wide-angled, nuanced approach to a complex issue.

The group will be looking into so-called “pop-up brothels” – short-term lets including Airbnbs in which sex is sold. The focus will be on the role of organised crime gangs in running these premises and the inquiry assumes from its outset than many of those working in such places will have been trafficked.

SWARM is keenly aware that exploitation and poor working conditions are rife within the industry, so we are unsure why MPs are focusing purely on short-term lets. The term “pop-up brothel” is a media-friendly soundbite which, in reality, covers a wide range of circumstances. Sex workers frequently travel for work, renting temporary accommodation as they go. Some work for managers, others for themselves. In both instances, exploitation and danger are possible. “Pop-up brothels”, however, account for just a fraction of the ways in which people sell sex.

The inquiry is being carried out to further calls for the Nordic Model (in which clients would be criminalised), with a focus on “ending demand”. Despite this, SWARM hopes the APPG will realise the strong link between criminalisation and the appearance of fly-by-night brothels. The English Collective of Prostitutes has highlighted the growing use of closure orders against established working flats and sex workers themselves will testify that we live in constant fear of having our workplaces raided by the police.

Meanwhile, media reports on which the inquiry is based – such as this one, from Newquay, in which a police officer claimed “sex workers from central and eastern Europe may have been trafficked into the UK” – don’t stand up to scrutiny. In this case, it emerged that, in Devon and Cornwall, labour trafficking is far more common than sex trafficking and, in fact, no Eastern European women were found to have been trafficked into prostitution at the time the officer gave the quote.

The relentless targeting of sex workers by police contravenes guidelines laid out by the National Police Chiefs Council, which state that “enforcement does not produce sustainable outcomes and can actually increase the vulnerability of sex workers to violent attack”.

SWARM hopes MPs will have the clarity to see the links between blanket enforcement and exploitative working conditions. Likewise, we call for the APPG to recognise that trafficking is a direct result of punitive immigration policies, that austerity drives entry into prostitution and that safety is impossible while our work places are designated crime scenes.

SWARM is disappointed that the APPG does not include any current sex workers – while non-sex working author Kat Banyard has been deemed an appropriate advisor – but we look forward to cooperating with the inquiry and will welcome conversation with the MPs involved.

You can submit evidence at  - the deadline is December 18 2017. We will be posting some advice on how to do this soon.


STOP police raids on migrant sex workers: No arrests, No deportations, safety NOW

Joint Statement by SWARM, English Collective of Prostitutes and National Ugly Mugs

Less than two months ago, thousands of sex workers and concerned members of the public raised their alarm over the arrest and deportation of three Romanian sex workers in Swindon. This week, West Midlands Police raided a premises in Smethwick, shutting down the workplace of another three Romanian women and reporting them to immigration control.

As well as raids in brothels, West Midlands police also continue to arrest sex workers on the street, preventing sex workers from reporting violence to the police for fear of arrest.

These heavy-handed raids are in direct contradiction to the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) Policing Sex Work Guidance, which stress that the safety of people engaged in sex work must be paramount. The guidelines state 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.”

It is clear that these guidelines are being widely disregarded by police forces across England and Wales, and that migration enforcement is being used to intimidate and displace migrant sex workers. Sex workers prefer to work together, indoors, because they know it is safer than more isolated ways of working. It is often claimed that brothel-keeping laws criminalise only managers, but under current UK law, a ‘brothel’ means any flat in which two or more sex workers work and anyone in the premises is liable to arrest. Recently a 70 year old cleaner was convicted of brothel-keeping after she phoned emergency services when a man collapsed on the premises where she worked. Another woman was recently threatened with deportation, and the flat threatened with closure, after reporting a violent robbery at the premises where she worked to the police.

We don’t know what has happened to the women targeted by West Midlands police in Smethwick, and we fear for their safety. If they have suffered sexual exploitation, have they been given the support that would allow them to escape and rebuild their lives? Or have they just been treated as criminals and served deportation orders? If they remain in sex work, who will they call if they are in immediate danger? Certainly not the police. Men who want to commit violence against sex workers know this fact well and will use it to their advantage.

We demand that police forces across England and Wales urgently review their practices in line with the NPCC guidance and immediately cease raiding and forcing closure on the premises of sex workers working together for safety. Migrant sex workers are some of the most marginalized people in our society – their safety should be our priority.


Here is the statement in Romanian below:

Opriți raziile poliției: fără arestări, fără deportări, siguranță ACUM

 Acum mai puțin de două luni, mii de lucrători și lucrătoare sexuale și persoane îngrijorate din public au ridicat un semnal de alarmă privind arestarea și deportarea a trei femei din România, lucrătoare sexuale în Swindon. Săptămâna aceasta, Poliţia din West Midlands a făcut o razie în Smethwick, închizând locul de muncă al alte trei femei din România, aceasta fiind apoi reclamate instituției care se ocupă cu controlul imigrației. 

Pe lângă raziile în bordeluri, poliţia din West Midlands continuă să aresteze lucrători şi lucrătoare sexuale de pe stradă, împiedicând lucrătorii şi lucrătoarele sexuale să reclame la poliţie acte de violenţă, din frica de a nu fi arestaţi/arestate. 

 Aceste razii şi descinderi în forță sunt în directă contradicție cu instrucțiunile de acțiune ale politiei în ceea ce privește munca sexuala (Policing Sex Work Guidance) a NPCC (National Police Chiefs Council - Consiliul Național al Inspectoratului Poliției), în care se insistă pe importanța crucială a siguranţei persoanelor care fac muncă sexuală. În aceste instrucțiuni ale poliției este menționat că “închiderea bordelurilor și raziile duc la neîncredere în toți agenții externi, inclusiv serviciile de outreach. Recâștigarea încrederii este dificilă, și implicit reduce cantitatea de informație care ajunge la poliție, punând lucrătoarele și lucrătorii sexuali în și mai mult pericol.”

Este clar că aceste instrucțiuni sunt ignorate la scară largă de organele de poliție din Anglia și Wales, iar acțiunile de control și sancționare a migrației sunt folosite pentru intimidarea și înlăturarea forțată a lucrătoarelor și lucrătorilor sexuali migranți. Lucrătoarele și lucrătorii sexuali preferă să lucreze împreună, indoor, știind că astfel se pot afla mai în siguranța decât dacă ar lucra separat, într-un mod mai izolat. De multe ori se spune că legile ce pedepsesc menținerea unui bordel vizează doar persoanele cu rol de manager, însă conform legilor actuale din Marea Britanie, “bordel” poate fi considerat orice apartament în care 2 sau mai mulți/multe lucrători/lucrătoare sexuali/e lucrează, iar pe lângă asta oricine prins în acel spațiu poate fi arestat. De curând, o femeie în vârsta de 70 de ani, angajată pentru a se ocupa de curățenie, a fost condamnată pentru “menținerea unui bordel” după ce a sunat la urgență când un bărbat se prăbușise în spațiul unde lucra. O altă femeie a fost de curând ameninţată cu deportarea, iar apartamentul ameninţat cu închiderea, după ce aceasta a depus o plângere la poliţie în urma unui jaf violent petrecut în locul unde ea muncea. 

Nu știm ce s-a întâmplat cu femeile vizate în Smethwick de poliția din West Midlands, și ne temem pentru siguranța lor. În cazul în care au suferit fiind exploatate sexual, au primit ele sprijinul necesar care le-ar permite să scape și să își reconstruiască viețile? Sau au fost tratate drept infractoare, ordine de deportare fiind emise pe numele lor? Dacă în continuare vor face munca sexuală, la cine vor apela în caz de pericol iminent? Cu certitudine nu la poliție. Bărbații care vor să comită un act de violență împotriva lucrătoarelor sexuale cunosc bine astfel de situații și le folosesc în avantajul lor.

Cerem ca forțele de ordine și poliția din Anglia și Wales să își revizuiască urgent practicile pentru a fi în conformitate cu instrucțiunile NPCC și astfel să oprească imediat raziile și forțarea închiderii spațiilor unde lucrători și lucrătoare sexuale lucrează împreună pentru a fi în siguranță. Lucrătorii și lucrătoarele sexuale migrante sunt unele din persoanele cele mai marginalizate în societatea noastră - iar siguranța lor ar trebui să fie prioritatea noastră.


suggested template letter for your MP

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.)

Read More

SWARM statement on the arrests of sex workers in Swindon

It is absolute salt in the wound of their arrest and imminent deportation that this has been justified with reference to the women’s “safety”. The Detective Superintendent told reporters: “this is a very positive outcome as the women are now safe and away from their clients and are no longer vulnerable to the risks of off-street sex work”. This is brushes over the fact that raids, arrest and deportation in themselves constitute material state violence – and that in being taken to an immigration detention centre, they are being taken to a place where violence against women is endemic. We very much doubt that the women in question today feel safer today than they did when they were working together in a shared flat. 

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Q&A with Laura Agustin: sex work, migration in The Three-Headed Dog

For anyone interested in the politics of sex work and migration, Laura Agustin’sSex at the Margins is a cornerstone text, exploring the way sex is sold, particularly for the undocumented, as people move around the world. Known for her criticism of grossly well-funded, largely ineffective anti-trafficking NGOs, Agustin coined the phrase “rescue industry” and, of this sector, she’s remained outspoken in her condemnation.

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Statement on the Death of Romina Kalachi

ECP and SWARM are devastated at the death of Romina Kalachi, a sex worker found murdered in her flat in Kilburn last week. Our thoughts are with Romina’s family and friends.

Yesterday, Noor Mohammed appeared at Wimbledon Magistrates' Court charged with Kalachi’s murder.

Romina was a migrant from Italy, working in a residential flat in Kilburn. Like many sex workers, Romina was working alone. While selling sex is legal in the UK, sharing the premises with a friend is classed a brothel and is illegal.

Women across the world live under the constant threat of violence and, for sex workers, this is heightened by illegality and stigma. A woman from Leeds recently articulated the threat when she said: “The laws are pointing at us and saying, ‘Nobody cares about you.” Migrant women are particularly targeted for attack.  

Guidelines from the National Police Chiefs Council recommend that police discontinue enforcement of laws which specifically target sex workers; such as brothel keeping and solicitation. Yet thousands of sex workers each year continue to be raided, arrested, prosecuted and even imprisoned.

There is a growing movement, spearheaded by sex workers, demanding the decriminalisation of sex work along the lines of the law introduced in New Zealand in 2003 with verifiable success. This must be an urgent priority for a new UK government before more precious lives are lost.