The police, of late, see to have been putting out mixed messages when it comes to sex work.
On the one hand, those involved are seen as victims, to be supported and protected as far as possible. On the other, sex workers are treated as criminals themselves, to be hunted down and punished for their actions. It doesn’t help that various government initiatives over the last few years have made such contradictions worse.
So: small ads in newspapers are bad – even though they are one means whereby sex workers can organise their own lives without being subject to control from agencies and pimps. Punternet – an online site where sex workers and their clients can go to discuss issues arising from sex work and on occasion identity dangerous clients – is bad: but a police-sponsored “ugly mugs” database is good.
Criminals and traffickers involved in the sex trade should be reported – but legislation that potentially criminalises punters has a major deterrent effect on individuals reporting abusive practices.
Working women should report abuse and violence to the police: but proceeds of crime legislation (which sets out to confiscate assets from those involved in crime) and government insistence on “re-educating” sex workers makes talking to the authorities less and less attractive.
As is the case in respect of Hanna Morris.
The story below comes courtesy of the English Collective of Prostitutes, who have been following the case below and campaigning hard on behalf of Hanna Morris, the woman involved.
Perverse prosecution undermines women’s safety
Fri 4 February, 2pm, Guildford Crown Court: abuse of process against Surrey Police on behalf of Hanna Morris
The case aims to stop the prosecution of Ms Morris who reported a violent attack and now faces charges for brothel-keeping and money laundering.
On 16 September 2009, Ms Morris dialled 999 when two identifiable men, one who appeared to have a sawn-off shot gun up his sleeve, barged into a flat used by her escort agency, threw petrol around and threatened to torch the place. Anxious to protect the women who work for the agency, Ms Morris innocently helped the police investigation.
The abuse of process case is being brought because:
• The investigation against the dangerous men has been dropped, but Ms Morris is being prosecuted;
• Ms Morris’s gave the police information on the understanding that it was needed to pursue the attackers. Without it, Surrey Police would have no evidence against her;
• Ms Morris was never at any point cautioned that what she was telling the police would be used as evidence against her;
• If the judge rules that there has been no abuse of process, Ms Morris will ask the court to exclude evidence obtained from her, from any proceedings against her.
Ms Morris’ solicitor Nigel Richardson (Hodge Jones and Allen) wrote to Surrey Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to ask for the prosecution to be dropped as it is “completely contrary to the stated aims of trying to improve the safety of sex workers” and that “it is hard to see how a prosecution in this case can do anything but . . . make would-be attackers more confident in their actions and increase the dangers for working women. . . the prosecution of this offence is likely to directly discourage the reporting of crimes against potentially vulnerable women and thus increase risks to their safety.”
Why is Ms Morris being prosecuted for trying to protect women and ensure that violent men are not free to attack others? The Director of Public Prosecutions claims to prioritise women’s safety. What does he have to say about this prosecution?
The prominent anti-rape group Women Against Rape comments: “90% of rapists go free. Prosecuting Hannah Morris who tried to bring two violent men to justice is perverse. Rapists and other violent men often target sex workers assuming they cannot call the police. If sex workers are denied the protection of the law, this vulnerability is magnified. The CPS and police should prosecute rapists, not victims.”
Is profiteering by police and CPS behind this surge of prosecutions? Hanna Morris is not the only woman who is being prosecuted in this way. The CPS’s record is riddled with such injustices. Under Proceeds of Crime law the police keep 50% of assets confiscated during raids and 25% from subsequent prosecutions, with the CPS keeping another 25% and the Inland Revenue the rest. Ms Morris’s home and life savings have been frozen pending confiscation if she is found guilty.