Organised crime is far more involved in running Britain’s sex trade than previously thought, with more than three-quarters of brothels found to have links to criminal gangs, according to pioneering research. It claims that [prostitutes]’ movements were controlled by brothels in a third of cases and criticises police for failing to tackle the criminals who control much of the off-street sex industry.
Published by an independent thinktank, the Police Foundation, the study is the first of its kind to document the links between organised crime and prostitution in a comprehensive way.
Using police data, researchers examined 65 known brothels in Bristol over two years, a figure which is a fraction of the true total, and interviewed more than 100 officials from the police and supporting agencies.
The report criticises the failure of local police to protect vulnerable [prostitutes], quoting one source saying that organised crime in the sex trade is “too hard [to tackle] for the amount of harm it causes”, while admitting that operations against brothel owners are rare.
The findings come shortly after the conviction of Christopher Halliwell for the murder in 2003 of 20-year-old Becky Godden, a Swindon [victim of commercial sexual exploitation], a development that has prompted debate about the ability of the police to provide sufficient protection to [prostitutes].
The cost of tackling trafficking for sexual exploitation in the UK is estimated to be £890m a year, but the study highlights a near absence of proactive police strategies. “Occasional welfare checks were completed at brothels by a local police team and partners, but sex workers rarely came forward,” it states.
“Consequently, there were few calls to respond to and little information to direct more proactive policing efforts.” It says that police welfare checks at brothels are “sporadic and not core business for any local agency”.
Researchers say police, whose organised crime work is primarily focused on theft and drug-related offenders, did not apply a rigorous approach to the issue. “While one or two officers had attempted to scan online ads for the threat of exploitation, this was not done systematically or regularly,” the report states.
[prostitutes] most vulnerable to trafficking are those at “pop-up brothels”, which constitute up to a fifth of the number identified and move location frequently. Almost half of the [prostitutes] identified in Bristol are Romanian.
The combined failure of any agency to take full responsibility for exploitation in the off-street sex trade, the Police Foundation claims, is leaving many [prostitutes] isolated and vulnerable to exploitation by organised criminals.
“The relative impunity with which pimps and traffickers operate, combined with the almost total exclusion of many off-street [prostitutes] – particularly foreign nationals – from mainstream society, requires a radical reconsideration of what the police and other relevant agencies should be doing,” the report adds.
Overall, the Police Foundation recommends a radical overhaul of local police approaches to organised crime in the sex trade. It urges the police, working with other local agencies, to do more to help victims of exploitation to come forward and offer more protection when they do.
The study also outlines a need for police forces to gather more robust intelligence: “The police and other local agencies need to do more to identify the hidden victims exploited in the off-street sex market and facilitate investigations for which no victim comes forward.”
This is from the Observer, which, I am happy to say, no longer calls raped children workers, but is still ok calling raped adults workers, and, in the full article, quotes the IUSW without offering the alternative view of the Nordic model.
I am writing to the Observer readers editor (he at least replied to my emails before, the Guardian readers editor never has).
I was disappointed to read an article in the Observer today (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/sep/24/organised-crime-behind-uk-sex-trade) on the sex trade that used the term ‘sex worker’ to describe women in prostitution controlled by criminal gangs. You have already agreed that it is not appropriate to call a raped child a ‘worker’, so it should be equally inappropriate to call a raped adult a ‘worker’.
I was also disappointed to see the article quote the IUSW uncritically, without offering any alternative viewpoint on the legal status of the sex industry. The IUSW is not a legitimate union, as it allows bosses to join (see this article here: https://www.byline.com/project/3/article/4).
It is bad journalism to only offer one side of an argument, the Nordic (abolitionist) model has been successful in Sweden since 1999 (https://nordicmodelnow.org/what-is-the-nordic-model/), and should at least be mentioned along side other legal approaches to prostitution.
I look forward to hearing back from you.
Privacy, like power and money, is one of those unevenly distributed commodities. And as with power and money, if you want to lay claim to privacy, having a penis is a great place to start. Even when a man’s personal conduct is in direct conflict with his public duties, he can still try to plead his entitlement to a “private life”. That’s the line Keith Vaz’s defenders have taken since Sunday, when the Sunday Mirror published allegations that the Labour MP for Leicester East paid two men for sex and that he did this while chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which is currently conducting an inquiry into the laws on prostitution. The same day Vaz was exposed, the Sunday Times published a list of “childless politicians” who were, inevitably, women: if you’re female, scrutiny is permissible all the way into your uterus, however little it has to do with your work.
The commons committee that Vaz chaired launched its inquiry into prostitution in January stating in its terms of reference: “In particular, the inquiry assesses whether the balance in the burden of criminality should shift to those who pay for sex rather than those who sell it.” In other words, Vaz was involved in an inquiry to decide whether people who pay for sex should be criminalised. The committee’s interim report, published in June, declared that it was “not yet persuaded” that criminalising punters would be “effective”, despite evidence of the policy’s success in Sweden and Norway.
Regardless of how much direct influence Vaz had over the committee’s findings, this is an obvious conflict of interest. It’s plainly not appropriate for an MP to make recommendations about a potential law when his own undisclosed conduct would put him on the wrong side of it. Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk — suspended from the Labour Party after his own explicit texts to a 17-year-old girl were revealed — has implored the public to offer “compassion” to Vaz, saying that he’s broken no laws.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s first response was similarly to point out that Vaz “hasn’t committed any crime that I know of” and to minimise the allegations as “a private matter”. Vaz’s own committee has recommended that no “burden of criminality” should fall on those who pay for sex, which is precisely why this story is not a “private matter”. But then, Corbyn himself has previously argued that decriminalising the sex industry is the “civilised” approach, on the assumption that all the harms of prostitution can be pinned on the laws against it.
And then there’s Peter Tatchell, whose campaigning work for gay rights frequently involved “outing” closeted individuals who made homophobic public statements, and yet who told BBC Radio 4’s Today this morning that he “found it very difficult to see any public interest justification for that intrusion into Keith Vaz’s privacy. As far as I can see, he has not broken any law or caused anyone any harm, and there’s no allegation of hypocrisy.” According to Tatchell, a hypocrite is someone who acts against their own unstated interests — those who use the guise of disinterest to publicly facilitate what they privately indulge get a pass, it seems.
During her oral evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee in May, former sex worker Paris Lees tried to embarrass the Conservative MP James Berry by demanding to know if he had “ever been in a position where you felt that you needed to sell your body for sex”. The aim, presumably, was to expose him as a privileged man with no right to pronounce on the subject. Vaz, as chair, declared that his colleague did not have to respond. The committee chose the side of men’s privacy too when it set itself against the sex buyer law — men, despite being both the market that drives demand for prostitution and the main threat to sex workers’ welfare, are discreetly unmentioned in the interim report’s conclusion. In that privacy, the pleasure, the safety and the consent of those in prostitution has been purchased away.