RHUL Feminism Society are supporting the Stop the Arrests Campaign which has been started by a coalition of sex workers and supporters of sex workers' rights. The campaign, started by x:talk, a grass roots sex worker organisation, is calling on the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and on the Metropolitan Police to implement a moratorium on the arrest, detention and deportation of sex workers in London during the Olympic Games.
The campaign was started in response to policing interventions that have aimed to “clean up” the Olympic boroughs in East London in the run up to the Games, which have included the arrest, detention and deportation of sex workers. Stop the Arrests believes that these measures put the lives of sex workers at risk, as it creates a climate of fear and shatters trust in police and other agencies (such as healthcare workers), leaving sex workers less likely to seek help when they need it. This was made starkly clear by a case last year involving sex workers in Barking & Dagenham, who were the victims of violent robberies at knife point. The sex workers approached the police, but were told that they risked arrest for brothel-keeping. Those responsible carried out several more violent attacks before the English Collective of Prostitutes was able to put pressure on the police to make an agreement not to arrest any of the women, they were able to come forward and give statements, and finally – and thankfully – the people responsible were caught. This demonstrates quite clearly that using policing strategies that create a climate of fear and distrust between sex workers and the police put sex workers' lives at risk.
It is often argued that large sporting events lead to an increase in trafficking for prostitution. However, there is no evidence that such an increase exists, and large scale research projects have in fact provided evidence against such a claim (you can see the evidence here). Whilst some women are, undoubtedly, the victims of trafficking, the claim that the Olympics will resort in an increase of trafficked sex workers in London is largely sensationalised. You can read a report by x:talk on the impact of UK anti-trafficking legislation on sex workers here. Although potentially a product of “good intentions”, the policing strategy which seems set to be put in place – largely on the basis of false claims about the rise in sex trafficking around major sporting events - will put sex workers at greater risk. Additionally, arresting and charging sex workers leads to them getting criminal records, which makes it much harder for them to be able to find other work if they want to, potentially trapping people within the sex industry. Perhaps most indicative of the Metropolitan Police's attitude towards this issue is the fact that they have developed their policing strategy in consultation with a religious group providing services to trafficked women, but without involving sex worker organisations. x:talk believes that those best placed to help other sex workers are sex workers themselves.
You can find out more information about the campaign at http://www.moratorium2012.org or by following @Moratorium2012 on Twitter.