Safety first: Stop prosecution of sex worker
who reported serious attack
Last September, without hesitating, Ms Morris dialed 999 to report a serious attack into a flat used by her escort agency. Two identifiable men, one with a sawn-off shotgun up his sleeve, barged in, threw petrol about threatening to torch the premises and to hold the woman there against her will.
Ms Morris did all she could to help the police on the understanding that the information she gave would be used in the pursuit of the assailants. The attack was initially taken so seriously that helicopters and sniffer dogs were brought in, and the next door shopping precinct cordoned off. But within hours Ms Morris and her partner had been arrested; another colleague was subsequently arrested.
Nine months later, not only are Ms Morris and her colleagues being prosecuted, but the case against the violent assailants has been dropped. Ms Morris comments:
“It used to be rare that I would hear about robberies in the area, we worked as part of a close community and were always looking out for one another. Now there isn’t a month that goes by when I’m not hearing that a place has been robbed or a girl attacked, it’s becoming more and more common, and everyone is too scared to report it. There have been six robberies in the last two months, none of which were reported, and that’s just those that I have heard about. It’s really quite frightening.”
We have told the CPS that by prosecuting sex workers who report attacks instead of their attackers, police and Crown Prosecution Service are making women more vulnerable. The Bradford and Ipswich murders took place after police crackdowns drove sex workers further underground and into more danger. Women didn’t report attacks for fear of arrest and violent men knew they could act with impunity. Surrey has shockingly low conviction rates for reported rape – nearly half the already disgraceful national average rate of 6.5%.
They are also acting against public opinion, which has time and time again prioritised safety. The acquittal of Ms Claire Finch on 29 April is a clear example of that. Ms Finch was prosecuted because she worked together with other women, even though they were all consenting adults and no force or coercion was used. But the jury agreed that it was safer to work collectively and found her not guilty.
Why is Ms Morris being prosecuted? Is it proceeds of crime?
The Sexual Offences Act 2003 made brothel keeping a “lifestyle offence”, prosecutable under Proceeds of Crime legislation. Raids and prosecutions have become profitable: the police keep 50% of any assets confiscated both during raids and 25% from subsequent prosecutions, with the Crown Prosecution Service keeping another 25% and the Inland Revenue the rest. Ms Morris’s and her partner’s home and assets have all been frozen. A substantial amount of cash put on one side to pay for income tax was taken in one of the police raids. No receipt was given.
The CPS is supposed to bear in mind the following considerations when prosecuting.
· To prevent people leading or forcing others into prostitution. But all women were working consensually independently. There was no force, coercion, violence or trafficking.
· The age of the prostitute and the position of those living off the earnings will clearly be relevant. All women who worked with Ms Morris were over 20 years of age. She was widely known to be good to work with, placing women’s health and safety foremost. That she reported the attack on one of the women is testimony of that.
· To penalise those who organise prostitutes and make a living from their earnings. Like millions of others, Ms Morris ran a small private business, not a big exploitative company. Both she and her partner are now destroyed. The family, which includes small children, is facing having to rely on state benefits.
· Generally, the more serious the incident the more likely that a prosecution will be required. The serious incident was AGAINST Ms Morris, not BY her. So why is she being prosecuted?
The laws which criminalise sex workers must be abolished. Safety comes first.