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«Silence on Violence Improving the Safety of Women The policing of off-street sex work and sex trafficking in London A report by Andrew Boff AM March ...»

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Silence on Violence

Improving the Safety of Women

The policing of off-street sex work and sex trafficking in London

A report by Andrew Boff AM

March 2012

Improving the Safety of Women


Executive summary

Part 1. Policing Sex Trafficking

Ambiguities within sex trafficking

SCD9- MPS Human Exploitation and Organised Crime Command

SCD9’s remit

A limited level of success

SCD9 and non-organised sex trafficking

Part 2. Policing during the Olympics

Consequences of Olympic borough policing

Part 3. Policing of sex work

Relationships between police and sex workers

Police priorities

The Merseyside model

Part 4. The law





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A heightened vulnerability All evidence available demonstrates that female sex workers1 are at a far higher risk of violence than any other group of women. Active sex workers were almost 18 times more likely to be murdered than women of similar age and race in one study on the mortality rates among sex workers.2 The reasons for female sex workers’ vulnerability are complex and manifold; but a belief by the perpetrators that their attacks and even murders will be underreported to police by prostitutes or their colleagues and families plays an important role.

As one serial murderer asserted, “I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.”3 The role of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPC) During the trial of serial murderer Peter Sutcliffe Attorney, General Sir Michael Havers stated that,

–  –  –

There is a fear among some sex workers and outreach organisations that this approach still haunts attitudes now 5. Indeed sex workers are still one of the few groups that often appear to be excluded from involvement on policies relating to them 6.

It is fundamental that women in all professions should be safe from harm and treated with dignity, respect and equality by the public services available to them. In light of the heightened risk towards this subsection of our community it is absolutely vital that the MOPC and Metropolitan Police Service work to create an environment where women feel they can report attacks, rapes, sex trafficking and other crimes against them.

It is also important as part of the Mayor’s strategy, ‘The Way Forward’, which targets violence against women. The majority of sex workers are female and, furthermore, violence towards sex workers often spills over into violence towards women in general. 7

–  –  –

Therefore, while not intending to undermine the violence that is committed against sex workers as may have been witnessed in the past 8, it is necessary to appreciate that protecting sex

–  –  –

During the trial of Peter Sutcliffe the judge gave the jury the following advice: If Sutcliffe mistakenly believed that he had killed only prostitutes, "then the correct verdict was probably manslaughter," not murder." “’I  Just Wanted To Kill a Woman.' Why?" Guardian 1981.

The focus of this report There is an extensive and morally equivocal debate about the rights and wrongs behind selling sexual services, reflecting different standpoints on exploitation, markets, inequality, gender roles, morality, freedom of choice, and safety.

Highly personal attitudes towards sex work from all sides have made discussions and policy in this area very difficult to formulate and, as such, areas of potentially significant concern within sex work have often been overlooked. This report leaves aside, as far as possible, the debate described above, and focuses on one crucial area within sex work– the safety of the women involved.

The report aims to look into two overarching areas related to women’s 9 safety within the sex industry: the policing of sex trafficking, and within that policing for the Olympics; and the general policing of sex workers.

It also aims to focus on off street prostitution 10. This is for several reasons including the fact that evidence shows that street prostitution very rarely, if at all, involves trafficked women 11.

–  –  –

What this report is about There is a group in London who are at least 12 times more likely to be murdered than the national average. Approximately three quarters of those within this category will also be subjected to violence, assault and rape. However this group often distrusts the police and are much less willing to report crimes against them than the national average.

The group referred to are sex workers and it is imperative we improve their safety in London.

This report looks into how we can do this.

It focuses, first, on the policing of sex trafficking and, second, on the policing of sex workers – with specific focus on off-street sex work.

Why I wrote this report This report was requested by the London Mayor Boris Johnson after I raised a number of concerns at Mayor’s Question Time in 2010/11. My first question involved a decision by Safer Neighbourhood police to ‘name and shame’ six street sex workers online. The Mayor thought that this should never happen again. However this issue was an ‘operational’ one and the former Commissioner did not support this move.

 As I became more concerned about the policing of sex workers publicly, more and more worrying individual cases were brought to my attention. I was informed that raids on brothels were increasing as the Olympics approached. Furthermore, I was given the impression that sex workers were becoming less willing to report crimes committed against them. The research I have carried out so far supports these judgements.

Policing of sex trafficking


The Olympics led to heightened media interest that trafficking and prostitution in London would rise. As a result, the Metropolitan Police Service has received additional funds to tackle sex trafficking.

However, I found no strong evidence that trafficking for sexual exploitation does in fact increase during sporting events nor that such trafficking or prostitution had increased in London. In fact my research found that a decrease in prostitution had been reported by police in London.

The data I have however reveals that raids have increased significantly overall in the Olympic host boroughs. This has not led to a large numbers of sex traffickers being caught nor victims found. This suggests that either sex trafficking is not taking place on as large a scale as suggested or, more worryingly, that the way we are policing sex trafficking could be more effective.

–  –  –


Many sex trafficking victims in the sex industry do not fit the presumed - almost idealised – role:

whereby someone is tricked into being a sex worker against their will.

Both my interviews with service providers who work with sex workers and with academics highlighted that many sex trafficked victims are migrant women who choose to be sex workers.

Their conditions of work, once here, may be very exploitative but they may only comprehend this exploitation gradually. Therefore if police behaviour damages the relationship with this type of sex trafficked victim before that comprehension takes place, then intelligence can be lost.

Therefore SCD9 – the police unit which tackle sex trafficking - needs joint strategies to tackle this crime and must work with sex workers and service providers, alongside borough police, to ensure their work is fully understood.


While investigating the policing of sex trafficking I came across a new area of concern. The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) unit which tackles sex trafficking focuses on organised crime – hence their focus on ‘brothels’. However while brothel raids discovered largely eastern European and Asian victims, one sex trafficking referral centre told me that their largest group of victims were from West Africa. Other data I found also supported this.

Some sex trafficking is not organised and does not take place in brothels. One trafficking charity said that many sex trafficking victims they work with had been sexually exploited by someone familiar to them within a closed community. I am concerned that not enough police resource is looking into this area and that policing of sex trafficking too narrowly focuses on brothels.

Evidence-based work needs to be done to work out where, when and how sex trafficking occurs and then police it accordingly.

Policing of brothels  


If residents have complained about anti-social behaviour linked to a brothel then the police should tackle the problem and possibly close down the premises.

However the information I have gathered from individual cases, service providers and borough police demonstrates that police have been proactively raiding sex establishments without complaints nor significant intelligence that exploitation is taking place.

This is a concern for two reasons. First, when police resources are stretched, should police be visiting establishments advertised in phone boxes, using seven officers a time?

–  –  –


Sex workers feel that when they report crimes, police focus on their crimes related to sex work – such as having a ‘brothel’ - over the crimes they originally reported against them. Therefore sex workers told me they feel that they cannot safely report crime to the police.

The service providers I spoke to, who work with sex workers, all said that they had noticed a decline in the number of sex workers reporting crimes to police.

The best policing model I found to tackle this lack of reporting was in Merseyside. This included labelling attacks against sex workers as hate crimes as a way of acknowledging that they were a minority who were disproportionately targeted by criminals. It also included the police putting out a well-publicised message that crimes against sex workers would not go unpunished. This strategy was formed under the leadership of Bernard Hogan-Howe, the new MPS Commissioner.

–  –  –

‘As far as her friends and family were concerned, Marinela vanished. One moment she  was on the way home from school, then she was gone.. Hours after being abducted,  she was raped. From that day they kept ...[her] prisoner.. Two more trafficked  Romanian girls arrived – one was later found to have a mental age of 10. [Marinela  was] raped by different men 50 times a week on average, often violent, drunken  strangers. 12’  Sex trafficking– in its most extreme form – is considered to be one of the most heinous crimes in the modern era and a violent contemporary manifestation of the slave trade that was abolished 200 years ago.

However the term ‘sex trafficking’ is riddled with complexities, anomalies and disagreements which partly fuel the strong divisions over how best to tackle it.

First, there is no agreed figure for how widespread sex trafficking is and, second, what this fact reveals on closer inspection, is that there is also no agreement on what ‘sex trafficking’ or even ‘coercion’ constitute.

Once these ambiguities are fully appreciated, it becomes clear that one must be wary of jumping to conclusions on how to police sex trafficking. It also explains perhaps why it has been difficult for the police to prosecute large numbers of sex traffickers thus far.

An unknown scale The inherently covert nature of sex trafficking renders obtaining accurate data on it almost impossible. Therefore there is no 100 per cent reliable scale of the problem; there are only estimations 13.

In the last decade there has been an increasing recognition that some women are being coerced in various ways to sell sexual services 14.

With this increased awareness, there has been a growing “perception that commercial sex is connected to international organised crime, raising social alarms about the extent of trafficking within the UK sex industry.” 15 As such, an array of figures have been bandied about in the media and by politicians regarding the extent of this relationship.

–  –  –

The largest figure quoted, and which has since been rejected by the Home Office 16, was that 80 per cent of prostitutes were trafficked. This came from a statement from Fiona MacTaggart MP who, in fact, had made a looser comment that “something like 80 per cent of women in prostitution are controlled by their drug dealer, pimp, or their trafficker. 17" However, this number has yet to be supported by research 18.

Nonetheless, the Poppy Project 19 found that 81 per cent of prostitutes working in London in 2004 were foreign nationals and stated that,

–  –  –

This belief by the Poppy Project received similar criticism to Fiona MacTaggart’s figure, due to the lack of statistical evidence 21.

Nonetheless it is the above line by the Poppy Project that is used and referenced in the Mayor’s The Way Forward 2010-13. 22 Low figures


The most recent estimation on the numbers of trafficked women in the sex industry in London was published by Dr Nick Mai for the Economic and Social Science Research Council 23.

Dr Mai’s qualitative research suggested that 6 per cent of the female migrant sex workers interviewed in London had been trafficked.

Meanwhile, 13 per cent felt that they had been subject to different experiences of exploitation, ranging from the 6 per cent of extreme cases of sex trafficking to cases of inadequate payment or working conditions. These were usually characterised by relatively more consensual arrangements'.

ACPO 24 worked with both the Poppy Project and Dr Nick Mai to publish a report, ‘Setting the Record’, 2010, on trafficking within sex work.

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