Shame on Police Scotland - migrant sex workers need rights not raids!

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.


SWARM is horrified by the Senate passing of SESTA-FOSTA in the US. Already, its effects are being felt and our solidarity is with workers in the US, particularly those in more precarious positions, who will undoubtedly be worst affected.

SWARM has spent the last few days offering internal support to our many panicked members and we are keenly aware of the wide-reaching implications of this legislation. We’ll do our best to bring you more practical information as things become clearer.


The US Senate has passed both Stop Enabling Sex-Trafficking Act (SESTA) and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA).

Both of these acts amend a current pieces of legislation, the Communications Decency Act. Section 230, which protects online platforms/websites from liability for what their users post.

Although SESTA-FOSTA have been passed in the name of preventing sex trafficking, they are worded to include all prostitution.

FOSTA reads as follows:

“This bill expresses the sense of Congress that section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 was not intended to provide legal protection to websites that unlawfully promote and facilitate prostitution […]

(Sec. 3) The bill amends the federal criminal code to add a new section that imposes penalties—a fine, a prison term of up to 10 years, or both—on a person who, using a facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce, owns, manages, or operates an interactive computer service (or attempts or conspires to do so) to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person.”

In other words, it is now a federal crime to post or host prostitution adverts or anything which could “facilitate” prostitution.


Websites and platforms are already removing content as their owners could be liable for a 25-year jail sentence.

So far, Backpage has removed its adult content, the Erotic Review (TER) has removed its ad boards, (P411) is no longer hosting ads for non-US workers, Craigslist has removed its personals section, Google Drive is apparently taking down sex workers’ content and CityVibe has shut down.

SWARM has heard reports of workers having their websites deleted for hosting with US-owned companies and, since most social media platforms are based in the US, sex workers worldwide are having to make significant shifts in their advertising, with many now scrambling to find safe alternatives.

Sex workers are having not only their means of survival shut down but also their means of sharing information and staying safe. Reddit’s removal of sex-work related sub-Reddits is a chilling example of how even discussion of sex work may now be censored in the US.

Sex worker-led groups and anti-trafficking organisations have been calling for reason since the bills were announced. Not only will SESTA-FOSTA be toothless when it comes to fighting sex trafficking, it will create immediate and lasting danger for sex workers who need to keep working to survive.

Since the shutdown of Backpage, which largely inspired this bill, the number of safe spaces to advertise online is dwindling, leaving sex workers to consider higher-risk outdoor work when they may not have had to before. A recent study found a 17 percent decrease in homicides with female victims after Craigslist erotic services was introduced. When sex workers don't have access to digital resources – such as Craigslist, Backpage, Rentboy or MyRedBook – they are more likely to engage in street work.

This bill is a blatant example of the conflation between coerced sex trafficking and consensual sex work. This will not stop sex trafficking, but instead render it more difficult to locate those who may be in danger, whilst placing those who were previously working in safer ways into jeopardy: conditions that will allow trafficking to thrive. From the outset, SETSA-FOSTA has been opposed by many survivors.


In the US, sex workers have been mobilising to offer support and find solutions as the world of online sex work shrinks around them. Sex worker Liara Roux has written guide to protecting yourself online at TitsandSass. You can get more information (and, if you’re able, send donations to) @redlightlegal, @swopbehindbars and

Sex workers in the UK should be aware that any website or content built or hosted on US-owned platforms (eg Squarespace or GoDaddy) may be at risk. Likewise, some domain suffixes (such as .com) are under US jurisdiction.

We will do our best to keep you updated on how best to keep working and stay safe.


SETSA-FOTSA was voted in overwhelmingly by US Congress but is has yet to be signed into law. In the meantime, there will be a constitutional challenge argued likely on free speech and due process grounds.

Sex workers are an easy target and, by posing the legislation as part of the “fight against sex trafficking”, congress has made palatable a measure will has vast implications for internet freedom.

In the UK, against the backdrop of the 2016 Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (aka Snoopers' Charter) and in light of the CLOUD Act, signed into law in the US last week, allowing foreign police and states to collect and wiretap people's communications from US companies, without obtaining a US warrant, SETSA-FOSTA should alarm us all.

"Websites are shutting down users' speech because they fear prosecution and litigation as a result of Congress passing SESTA/FOSTA," says the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "This is what internet censorship looks like.

"When platforms over-censor their users, marginalized communities are often silenced disproportionately.”




SWARM and ECP celebrate former prostitutes' high court win

SWARM and ECP congratulate the three women who last week won in court the right not to reveal their criminal convictions for prostitution to prospective employers.

The women have multiple convictions for soliciting or loitering under the Street Offences Act, and their records will be amended to filter out these convictions. The women in this landmark case are victims of exploitation but the ruling will apply to all sex workers with loitering and soliciting convictions.

Every year, hundreds of sex workers are criminalised under prostitution laws.[1] Women of colour, migrant and trans women are most likely to be targeted. ECP and SWARM point to other changes that are urgently needed; specifically that criminal records for prostitution should be fully expunged. Under last week’s court ruling the police will still have access to the information that someone has been convicted for soliciting and this can result in discriminatory treatment.

Alongside soliciting, we call for brothel-keeping to be decriminalised, as it is primarily being used to prosecute sex workers working together collectively for safety. This is in line with the recommendations [2] of the Home Affairs Committee which called on the government to:

“ . . . change existing legislation so that soliciting is no longer an offence and so that brothel-keeping provisions allow sex workers to share premises” and that legislation should be drafted to provide for the “deletion of previous convictions and cautions for prostitution from the record of sex workers.”

After full decriminalisation was introduced in New Zealand in 2003, the government found that “a provision to allow people to apply for historical convictions to be removed from their record had made it easier for sex workers to leave prostitution.”[3]


[1] English Collective of Prostitutes. (2017). Bulletins: Raids, Arrests and Prosecutions. Available at:

[2] House of Commons Home Affairs Committee. Prostitution (Third Report of Session 2016-17). Available at:

[3] English Collective of Prostitutes. (2015). Decriminalisation of Prostitution: the Evidence. Available at:

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.)

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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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