A new policy under which Police Scotland plans to visit sex workers in their homes has been branded as “draconian” by charity SCOT-PEP, which campaigns for sex workers’ rights. Patrick Harvie MSP has expressed concern and tabled questions about the policy at Holyrood, while the police have defended their position. We spoke to one sex worker, who asked to be referred to as Thomas (not his real name), to ask about the impact the policy could have on people like him.
According to SCOT-PEP, the scheme includes “a programme of increased online surveillance of suspected sex workers, a clear violation of the civil liberties both of sex workers and the general public.” They assert that it involves encouraging neighbours to spy on each other and report people they suspect are sex workers to the police, despite the fact that sex work is not illegal in Scotland.
“Where sex workers are working alone, they will be intimidated. Where two or more sex workers are working together for safety – a set-up that is currently criminalised – they will fear police interest indicates arrest is imminent, and those sex workers will be forced to choose between a safer workplace, and prosecution,” said the charity.
A Survation poll has shown that the vast majority of the Scottish public supports the idea of sex workers being able to work together in order to reduce their risk of assault.
“Everyone agrees that this is really not what we want from the police,” said Thomas. “It’s really problematic.
“Sex workers want to be protected by the police. We want to be able to call if something bad happens, like an attack, an assault or a rape. We want to see the perpetrator arrested so they won’t attack somebody else. By having a pragmatic approach, the police can encourage us to report violence. Wee would really like it if the police would listen to what sex workers are asking for.”
Speaking of the fear that sex workers can feel when they hear the police knock on the door, he added “The police are not known for being especially LGBT friendly, especially to non-conforming people like feminine guys and trans women. We are afraid of being victims of transphobia and homophobia.”
“This is categorically not about criminalising sex workers and it’s factually inaccurate to claim otherwise,” said police spokesperson Ruth Gilfillan of the National Rape Taskforce and Human Trafficking Unit, who was involved in the development of the project. “Police Scotland and a wide range of partners including the local authority, health and third sector organisations, including Scot-PEP, want to improve the safety, improve engagement and address the support needs of those working in the off-street sex industry.
“It is recognised that prostitution is a sensitive and complex issue. That’s the reason why a wide range of views were sought. It is disappointing that the aims and objectives of the multi-agency approach appear to have been misinterpreted. Police Scotland remains committed to working with all of our partners including Scot-PEP.”
Thomas, however, felt that he had been given no opportunity to contribute to the development of a policy that will impact his life. “We would really like it if the police set up a consultation with sex workers like they would do for any other group,” he said.