Three Hundred Pounds in Her Pocket

Aisling Gallagher

The Sheffield Working Women’s Opportunities Project has reported a steep rise in the number of women starting or returning to sex work in the city. The English Collective of Prostitutes says the pattern repeats itself across the country. ‘Zero hours contracts, benefits sanctions and family care needs’ are among the reasons women give for turning to sex work.

‘I’ve got three hundred pound in my pocket,’ Katie says defiantly in I, Daniel Blake when Daniel discovers her working in a brothel. She recently collapsed eating a tin of cold beans in a food bank; what options does she have? Many sex workers are effectively being criminalised for refusing poverty.

A brothel is defined by law as a premises out of which more than one sex worker operates. Working indoors is less risky than working on the street, but because brothels are illegal, people who work at them have no rights as workers. Sex workers have to pay house fees, and it isn’t uncommon for bosses to withhold wages as punishment. Amnesty International now advocates decriminalisation as the best way to protect sex workers from human rights abuses.

Last month, police raided several brothels in Soho as part of ‘Operation Lanhydrock’, under the guise of rescuing victims of trafficking. More than a dozen people were arrested on immigration charges and detained by the UK Border Agency. Sex workers’ earnings were confiscated. At a flat in Bolton a week later, police told the migrant sex workers to ‘get a legitimate job or register for benefits within 30 days or else risk arrest and possible deportation.’

The best way to ensure that people who do not want to do sex work are not forced into it is by changing the circumstances that leave it as the best – or only – option. This means, for a start, talking seriously about the impact of the bedroom tax, benefit cuts and other punitive austerity measures on vulnerable people, especially single mothers.


  • 5 December 2016 at 10:34am
    Janwil says:
    Everyone agrees that women are being forced into prostitution because austerity has upped the already massive disadvantage that women, particularly single parents, operate under. 'I,Daniel Blake' did us all a service in reminding us of this. Policing of prostitution is known to be confused, heavy-handed and a post-code lottery. WE urgently need some decent legislation, but when the parliamentary committee charged with giving unbiased advice on this turned out to be chaired by a secret sex buyer, this looks inlikely.
    However Aisling Gallagher's third paragraph contains an inaccurary and a non-sequitur. The inaccuracy is 'working indoors is less risky than working on the street' - the risks are different indoors and outdoors, but both are inherently unsafe. We all last month about the 'high-end escort' Georgina Symonds being delibarately murdered by her client. Not a street prostitute. Amsterdam followed this flawed logic when it completely legalised prostitution in 1999, only to roll back the clock very soon: Major Cohen said, 'The legalisation of prostitution did not being about what many had hoped. We are still faced with distressing situations in which women are being exploited.' The Dutch National Reporter on Human Trafficking said in 2007, 'WE have tried to decriminalise the prostitution sector.....and we have seen that it really doesn't work that way. Many of these women in the legalized sector are being forced and violently treated so the Dutch government is now thinking, Are we on the right track?' Amsterdam eliminated its 'tolerance zone' in 2003 and later prohibited street prostitution. The 2007 Daalder report stted that 'The prostitutes' emotional well-being is now lower than in 2001 on all measured aspects, and the use of sedatives has increased. A 2008 National Police Service report described 'the illusion of a crime-free licensed sector', telling how criminal gangs of trafficker/pimps were found to have violently victimized dozens of women in prostitution within the licensed sector.'

    In case you are wondering whether I have committed a 'non sequitur' by not following up on my allegation of one earlier, the one I meant was the disconnect between saying (wrongly, as I have shown) that 'working indoors is less risky' and the following comment which states disadvantages, rather than advantages, of working indoors.

    Amnesty International does indeed, wrongly in my view, advocate decriminalisation, but they have not provided answers to the points raised above and some individual countries Amnesty organisations, eg France and Sweden where the Nordic Model is in place, have dissociated themselves from this policy.

    The only thing that works in dealing with prostitution is the Nordic Model, which makes it a criminal offence to buy sex (penalising men who break this law) and offers exit services to women who want to get out of prostitution. This has reduced prostitution by 50% in Sweden, and has also been adopted by Norway, Iceland, Canada, Northern Ireland and France. We should try it here.

    • 7 December 2016 at 4:15pm
      Graucho says: @ Janwil
      Once criminalised activities such as prostitution abortion etc. get driven underground, so I'm not sure where the 50% reduction figure comes from or whether it can be trusted.