The Independent Letters 26 April 2007
Asbos will push sex workers into danger
Sir: Joan Smith acknowledges that "women are driven into prostitution by poverty", but doesn't address benefit cuts, low wages, debt, lack of affordable housing, and addiction to expensive drugs. Instead, she targets clients ("Prostitutes are victims not criminals", 13 April).
She claims that police can't deal with sex workers being beaten or raped because they are "constrained by the law ... which aims to stop women selling sex rather than men buying it". Protecting women is not about arresting men indiscriminately, but arresting violent men, whether their victim is a partner or a sex worker. The conviction rate for reported rape in Suffolk is a disgraceful 1.6 per cent, far lower than the national average. This would suggest that women's safety is not high on the police agenda.
Police and Ipswich Council claim that "Asbos [against clients and sex workers] are being set alongside initiatives to prevent young girls becoming vulnerable" to the sex industry (letter, 20 April). But they offer no budget or added resources for such initiatives.
Asbos push prostitution further underground. Women end up in more isolated, less-well-lit areas where they are more vulnerable to attack, and - fearing arrest - less able to report rape and other violence. Under these circumstances, how will Suffolk police know if another potential murderer is at large?
In response to widespread compassion and concern for the women who were murdered in Ipswich and for their families, we have formed the Safety First Coalition to prevent this happening again. We are looking at how sex work was decriminalised in New Zealand and at viable economic alternatives to prostitution.
CARI MITCHELL, ENGLISH COLLECTIVE OF PROSTITUTES; CAMILLE SHAH, IPSWICH; THE REV ANDREW DOTCHIN, IPSWICH; KATHY FRENCH, ROYAL COLLEGE OF NURSING; SIAN KILCOMMONS, SEX WORKERS' EMPOWERMENT, EDUCATION AND TRAINING, HUDDERSFIELD; THE REV PAUL NICOLSON, ZACCHAEUS 2000 TRUST