There is a land grab going on
January 19, 2014 1:15 PM   Subscribe

There is a land grab going on in Soho under the banner of morality. That night, while Stephen Ward [in Andrew Lloyd Webber's new musical of that name] was bowing to an entranced audience, 200 of our boys in blue raided more than 20 models' flats, arresting 30 girls and confiscating their earnings. ... They broke down doors, intimidated girls into accepting cautions (ie criminal records) and served civil-eviction papers that, unless you were a lawyer, you would not know had hidden in their depths (20-odd pages) the time and date you were to appear in court if you wanted to appeal. Rupert Everett in defence of Soho's working girls.
posted by Grangousier (16 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for this post. I've been following these stories very closely as I have friends in the community whose livelihoods are being impacted by heavy handed raids like these.

The Soho raids were disgraceful bit of policing. Not only were the working women forced out onto the street, but the Metropolitan Police invited journalists to document it for, among others, the London Evening Standard. Horrible dehumanising photos of the women being forcefully evicted (faces blurred or hidden behind hands) were printed in the newspapers (but have since been taken down after the outcry by the Sex Worker Open University and others).

Interested parties should also check out this guest post on Feministing by Paula Nicol from the English Collective of Prostitutes and the statement from the SWOU on the raids.

Soho is a wonderful part of London with a rich and turbulent history. There have been women working in the area for decades. Now, because of a conservative government terrified by sex, a greedy local authority and a police force driven by profits rather than the desire to protect, these women have been forced out of their homes, where they could earn money and support themselves safely. I'm ashamed to see it happen in my city.
posted by fight or flight at 1:37 PM on January 19, 2014 [8 favorites]

Also of note, this Guardian piece about the murder in October of Mariana Popa, a sex worker in London:
On the night she was murdered, friends believe Popa was working late to pay off a fine for soliciting issued as part of a police campaign to drive prostitutes from the street. More crucially, she was working alone.

Sex workers usually operate in a group for protection, pointing out dodgy clients to one another, identifying men who have turned violent in the past. Popa would have needed the group more than most – she had arrived from Romania just three weeks earlier.

When Popa was killed, the Met were running an enforcement campaign, Operation Clearlight, against sex workers in Redbridge, particularly Ilford Lane. To avoid detection by patrolling officers, the women were forced to work on their own.

Some are unequivocal that Clearlight contributed to Popa's death. Georgina Perry of Open Doors, an NHS project working with sex workers in east London, said: "During the enforcement operation, women were running from police and hiding behind cars to avoid them. I have seen women taking their shoes off and leaving them on the pavement so that they can run away fast from the police." She said that women did not even dare to carry condoms because officers could use them as evidence that the women were soliciting for sex.

Monica Abdala of Redbridge Street Pastors, which has been helping sex workers on Ilford Lane since 2010, said her organisation had met the police to share concerns that enforcement operations were endangering women.

"The police were constantly out there [on patrol], that was the one thing that influenced what happened to Mariana. It does not help when the police do operations, arresting women, arresting men. It makes the women spread out; it makes the women work harder. They have to go up alleys where there are no cameras."

Armitt is among a number of high-ranking officers gravely uncomfortable with the tactic of enforcement operations against on-street sex workers. "We know that men who attack sex workers go on to attack other women. Where there have been robust and overt police enforcement operations, shortly afterwards we see that incidents of violence against sex workers increase."
posted by fight or flight at 1:41 PM on January 19, 2014 [10 favorites]

Prostitution is not the Oldest Profession. Land-grabbing is.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:50 PM on January 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

Popa was working late to pay off a fine for soliciting issued as part of a police campaign to drive prostitutes from the street.

It is just staggering to me that a nation whose citizenry, if not its government, has so much human rights activism in its most prominent and influential social classes, still thinks that a punitive approach to controlling prostitution does anything but harm.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:26 PM on January 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

Is there no end to endangering women in the name of protecting them?
posted by rtha at 3:35 PM on January 19, 2014 [10 favorites]

There appear to be some cracks in the edifice of the Drug War which is an even worse example of endangering society in the name of protecting it so perhaps the collapse of the moral panic surrounding sex workers is next. One can hope.
posted by Justinian at 4:21 PM on January 19, 2014

To clarify, sex work is lawful in England. The raids in Soho were about accusing the women of being involved with or victims of various offences connected to sex work which are not lawful. Hence why there was no attempt to hide their work, but rather dispute that they were controlled.
posted by Thing at 4:33 PM on January 19, 2014

Is there no end to endangering women in the name of protecting them?
Not in our lifetimes, if history is any indication. It's ludicrous the level of hypocrisy enforcement of legislation around sex work always seems to involve. It's pretty much always been tolerated as long as it's kept out of sight and doesn't negatively impact on the rest of society. Fortunately, more and more legislators are seeing the value in stripping away that hypocrisy and legalising prostitution (not that a desire to be more honest is the motivator), but it's a long way from being common, I think, never mind universal.
posted by dg at 4:35 PM on January 19, 2014

Thing: “To clarify, sex work is lawful in England. The raids in Soho were about accusing the women of being involved with or victims of various offences connected to sex work which are not lawful. Hence why there was no attempt to hide their work, but rather dispute that they were controlled. ”
I didn't realize that, Thing. That makes this entire, sorry affair all the more shameful. Driven into the street because the cops presume she has a pimp? Even though one couldn't be found? And the court went along with this fairy tale? Jesus wept.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:52 PM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

There is a special extra-warm spot in hell for those who oppress the innocent or perhaps worse the already downtrodden. I don't know how anyone who doesn't believe in some kind of afterlife or at least karma or something of the sort can read about shit like this and stay sane.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:05 PM on January 19, 2014

I'm glad to see Everett using his celebrity to bring attention to this. It's not the usual sort of feel-good ambassadorial job, but that doesn't mean somebody shouldn't call out what the police and courts are doing.
posted by immlass at 10:21 PM on January 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Laurie Penny's take is also worth a read:
The story that is not being told in pictures of riot police raiding brothels is that the same police are authorised to keep a percentage of the cash they take from prostitutes. Under the Proceeds of Crime Act, money and valuables confiscated from sex workers – including anything set aside for rent, medicine and food for their children – get divvied up between the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the HMRC.

Worse, sex workers who are also migrants often find themselves turned over to the UK Border Agency (UKBA) following these “compassionate” raids. The English Collective of Prostitutes states that, during the recent Soho raids, “Some immigrant women were taken into custody on the pretext that they may be victims of trafficking, despite their protestations that they were not being forced to work.”

If tackling human trafficking is a priority, arresting the alleged victims, taking their money and handing them over to the UKBA seems like an odd way to go about it...
Just as we all know sometimes it's necessary to destroy the village in order to save it; sometimes to protect the women you need to cuff them, take all their money, then throw them out of the country.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 4:15 AM on January 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

What the hell is the stated justification for the police being allowed to take this "confiscated" money???
posted by runincircles at 8:11 AM on January 20, 2014

About 800-900 comments on the FPP about the squawling baby in the restaurant, and just over a dozen here.

Not because we don't care. Because we are (I believe, and hope) so uniformly sickened by this action, and so powerless to do anything about it. It's a tragedy akin to reading about an arsonist's fire: violence upon the innocent, damnable without controversy (only the arsonist is the government, which makes it worse to some of us).
posted by IAmBroom at 12:05 PM on January 20, 2014

@runincircles: you can confiscate money that people can't prove they got lawfully. In the past criminals eg drugdealers could keep all their loot because the police couldn't prove they stole it, now if you're convicted you have to prove it's not "property [that] constitutes a benefit from criminal conduct", so to speak. You have to prove it's innocent. Many policemen on different occasions have told me it made all the difference to how keen people were to become criminals and was very effective legislation. But nearly all payments in UK are by bank and card so there's usually a trail. It's not like the American thing posted here recently, where they can just take money: you have to be convicted of something. I did meet someone who didn't get the money by crime but had a problem: he didn't pay income tax on the money he bought his house with. So he could get his house back and have a huge debt to the IRS, or he could lose his house... The police forces can't keep it either, unlike america. It gets given to victims' charities, prevention stuff, that kind of thing. So i've always approved of it till now. The problem here is, prostitutes' wages aren't taxed - for good and bad (as in, illegal, tax-dodging) reasons, so you can't prove you earned the money, paid self-employed National Insurance contributions etc.
NB They're privatisating the police by the back door - not so fast as education, let alone the NHS/healthcare, and 'through the back door' as in it's not blazoned across the front pages, but it's still there for all to see, so i'm sure we'll have all the USA abuses soon. I remember in 2000, all the papers did 'centenary editions' with bits from that decade, and in all of them - Guardian to Mail? Times? rightwing, anyway - there were small-column notifications about torture camps etc in Germany in the 1930s period, because these were re-published from real archive editions, so definitely came out, so it was there if you cared to read it, so i hold no hope of humanity's noticing anything ever. I mean, some of you are giving birth, but you'd think some of us would notice. NNB agree props to Everett.
posted by maiamaia at 1:31 PM on January 20, 2014

sex empire man has grand-daughter with name Fawn - who wants to be an actress - no!! stop this now, before you breach good taste AND cliche!!
posted by maiamaia at 1:47 PM on January 20, 2014

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