The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee is calling for soliciting by sex workers to no longer be a crime.
The committee is a group of cross-party MPs who have also said that brothel-keeping rules should be adapted so that prostitutes can share a base instead of taking the risk of working alone.
Previous convictions and cautions for prostitution were recommended to be wiped from sex workers’ records because of the barrier it causes when wanting to get into work outside of sex work.
The committee has called for these changes to happen immediately and the Home Office said it would carefully consider the recommendations.
Why this is important?
Sex work is generally a topic which many people become polarised about as it involves an intricate mix of moral, social and legal issues and feelings.
This usually means that governments become shy and avoid dealing with any issues related to sex work. The feelings within the committee were unanimous that changes need to be made.
They have instead made bold decisions towards decriminalisation as well as considering a ‘sex buyers law’ depending on how such laws progress in countries such as Northern Ireland, France, New Zealand and other parts of Europe.
This would affect the estimated 72,800 sex workers in the UK, 32,000 in London alone, said the Home Affairs Select Committee report.
Why have they made this decision?
They have made this decision because to treat sex work as a crime can prevent them from seeking physical and mental aid if they need it or if they want to leave sex work.
It also exposes them to abuse and violence. The new recommendations would increase sex workers’ safety, especially if they would no longer be scared of being arrested if they work together and would no longer have to take the risk of working alone.
‘Treating soliciting as a criminal offence is having an adverse effect, and it is wrong that sex workers, who are predominantly women, should be penalised and stigmatised in this way,’ said Labour MP Keith Vaz.
What does this mean?
The odds of these recommendations actually being implemented are low to say the least. It will definitely not happen in the next year as the UK is in turmoil over Brexit and who our PM is going to be.
This is a huge step forward considering an attempt by former Labour Home Office minister Fiona Mactaggart to change the law to criminalise paying for sex was defeated in 2014. Sex workers criticised the proposal, saying criminalising their clients will make their work more dangerous.
It would create more protection for sex workers and increase their safety. ‘An estimated 152 sex workers were murdered between 1990 and 2015. Another 1,139 victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation in 2014 and 248 in April to June 2015 (following the implementation of the Modern Slavery Act 2015).’
Arguments for why sex work should be decriminalised?
If sex work is being conducted between consenting adults, they should be entitled to act as they wish and be able to be safe.
If the stigma is removed sex workers would be able to, more easily, go to the police for protection from violence.
They could also access health services more easily which could stop the spread of sexually transmitted disease such as HIV.
If the industry becomes professionalised sex workers could have access to benefits and pensions similar to any other job which could also contribute to leaving sex work if they want to.
The BBC reported that Felcitas Schirow, a German brothel owner and sex worker, says the 2002 law has helped give prostitutes self-confidence. ‘The owners of brothels could invest money, she says, and the women could pick a good employer where they felt at home and who met their requirements.’
Decriminalisation would allow for more effective responses to trafficking. Many women are coerced into sexual exploitation and, because of the criminality, they usually end up isolated and unable to seek help.
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