Support groups for sex workers have split over home secretary Jacqui Smith’s plans to crack down on prostitution, which were announced at the Labour conference.
Smith promised the government would legislate to outlaw paying for sex with a person who was being exploited, to protect trafficked women in particular, and criminalise first-time – rather than just persistent – kerb-crawling.
The police would also be able to close down brothels for three months, even without evidence of antisocial behaviour or the use of Class A drugs, as required at present.
Smith also promised to give communities a greater say in preventing lap-dancing clubs from opening in their areas.
The Poppy Project, which supports and houses women trafficked into prostitution, backed the plans. “It’s obviously high time the focus should be on men who create the demand as opposed to the women who are victims of sex exploitation,” said Julie Bindel, consultant at the project and author.
However, Cari Mitchell, a spokesperson for the English Collective of Prostitutes, said, “Cracking down on kerb crawlers deprives women of time to negotiate with clients, forcing them to take more risks. Women cannot afford to just stop working.”
Mitchell added: “When kerb crawlers were criminalised in Scotland a year ago sex work projects reported that attacks on women almost doubled.”
However, Bindel called for prosecutions to be extended to off-street prostitution, citing her recent research for the Poppy Project which found an average of 28 brothels in each London borough and penetrative sex on offer for as little as £15.
Smith’s plan follows a six-month government review into tackling the demand for prostitution, which looked at evidence from the Netherlands, where prostitution is legal and regulated, and Sweden, where it is legal to be a prostitute but an offence to buy sex.