Three Hundred Pounds in Her Pocket
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.