The government needs to review prostitution laws to ensure prostitutes can work together on the same premises to stay safe, a senior police officer said.
This was stated by Dan Vajzovic, head of the National Police Chief Council for Prostitution and Sex Work The independent is working alongside government officials to reevaluate brothel keeping legislation.
Politicians and activists said this marks a “landmark moment” and a change in approach by the police, arguing that the revised law could save women’s lives.
Brothel keeping laws make it illegal for more than one prostitute to operate from the premises, despite the fact that this is something many in the industry do to keep themselves safe.
The legislation dates back nearly seven decades to the 1956 Sexual Offenses Act that made brothel keeping an offense for the first time, with the law amended in 2003 to raise the maximum prison sentence from six months to seven years.
Mr Vajzovic, temporary deputy chief of police at Bedfordshire Police, said current laws mean that keeping brothels is a criminal offense even if it is done to ‘improve their safety’.
She said The independent: “My point of view is that I don’t think it’s useful. I’m working with government officials to see if we can have a review of that particular piece of legislation.
The former assistant chief of police said he had “called for a review of the legislation to allow the police to better focus our resources on protecting prostitutes and tackling those they control or exploit”.
This was stated by Christine Jardine, a Scottish Liberal Democrat politician The independent the intervention of the police officer “is welcome and a step in the right direction”.
The Edinburgh West MP said she was calling for decriminalization and a national debate in parliament on the “form it takes” as she called for a “proper strategy” from the government on the issue.
The politician, who is the LibDem spokesperson for women and equal opportunities, added: “You can’t just say we decriminalize it, you have to look at how you do that and how you protect women who will still be vulnerable.”
While it is not illegal for people to buy or sell sex in the UK, grooming, street work, prostitutes ganging up and prostitutes advertising themselves are illegal.
Commenting on the police officer’s remarks, said Nadia Whittome, Labor MP for Nottingham East The independent: “Right now, too many sex workers work alone out of fear of prosecution, increasing the risks they take.
“Changing the law on brothel keeping so that sex workers can work from the same premise would be an important step in the right direction.
“Other laws targeting sex work – such as grooming – should also be repealed, to improve the rights, safety and ability of sex workers to leave the sex industry if they choose. In addition to decriminalization, the government urgently needs to address the rising levels of poverty that are driving more women into prostitution to make ends meet.”
What makes sex work dangerous is the stigma and criminalization. Stigmatization of sex workers can mean they are more of a target for violence.
While Niki Adams, spokesperson for the English Collective of Prostitutes, a major campaign group that supports sex workers, said changing brothel law “could mean the difference between life and death for women because they would be able to work together more securely from the premises”.
He added: “It is a landmark moment as it signals a change of direction by the police to move away from criminalisation. It’s a welcome change of direction and an acknowledgment that criminalization endangers women.”
The activist, whose organization supports the decriminalization of prostitution, added that she regularly hears from women reporting that they have experienced rape and other forms of violence from clients and others.
she added. “Over the past two months, we have spoken to two women who let men into their apartment and threatened them. They worked their way up to try and rob women. A woman had a man threaten to throw her out the window.
“The other was held up by the neck and pinned against the wall. Both women were terribly shaken and traumatized. This is the kind of attack that stays with you forever.
Women in street prostitution face “the worst violence,” Ms. Adams said.
Previous research by the English Collective of Prostitutes and National Ugly Mugs, an app where prostitutes can confidentially report incidents of abuse and crime, have found that it is 10 times more dangerous to work on the streets than indoors.
Megan Isaac, a spokeswoman for a coalition of prostitute organizations called Hookers Against Hardship, said Vajzovic’s comments were “positive” but she also called for women who work on the streets to stop being criminalised.
“The fact that it is illegal pushes women to work in more isolated areas of the city or town and they go to an industrial area to keep out of sight of the police and this puts their safety at risk,” she said. “We hope this is the first step towards the complete decriminalization of sex work.”
The cost-of-living crisis is driving more and more women into prostitution, while those who were already doing so are facing greater danger, she added.
A Home Office spokesman said: “As reflected in our current legislation, we are committed to protecting sex workers from harm and enabling the police to target anyone who exploits vulnerable people involved in prostitution.
There are daily humiliations and abuses, such as people spitting on you or throwing objects at you from cars, but then also serious episodes of violence.
“However, we also need to be aware of community concerns and the general public good. Guidance published by the National Police Chiefs’ Council makes it clear that the safety of those involved in sex work must be prioritized for police forces over coercive action.”
The comments come after activists recently said The Independent who the skyrocketing cost of living is jeopardizing the safety of sex workers by forcing them to accept potentially dangerous male clients whose requests they would have previously rejected.