“We’re no criminals!” say women formerly involved in Prostitution at the Judicial review of prostitution convictions.

Feb 01, 2018

Last week, the Divisional Court heard an application for a judicial review of the Government’s policy in relation to the retention, recording and disclosure of criminal convictions arising from soliciting offences.
This is a highly significant case for women who have been involved in prostitution, heard for the first time on the 17th and 18th January. To highlight this,  we quote the Centre for Women’s Justice, whose full release on the judicial review can be read here.

“The claim, brought by a group of women, formerly involved in prostitution, argued for the first time that the Government legislative scheme discriminates against women and is contrary to the UK’s legal obligations in respect of the trafficking of women.  They will also rely on previous findings that the scheme is a disproportionate interference of their private life.

“I met a pimp aged 15 and two weeks later I was thrown into the violent and abusive world of prostitution. Rape became an occupational hazard, but I was arrested, charged and criminalised for loitering for the purposes of being a common prostitute. After more than twenty years out of prostitution, I am still having to explain my criminal record to any prospective employer.  It feels like explaining my history of abuse” Fiona Broadfoot, Claimant.

The women bringing the claim were exploited and trafficked as teenagers and forced to survive through prostitution for a number of years before getting out. Most of those who have been in street prostitution have multiple convictions under s1 Street Offences Act 1959 which means that when applying for a range of jobs or volunteering activity, DBS checks will result in their histories of prostitution being made known many years after they have left that life behind.

“It doesn’t matter what it is – trying to help out at my kids’ school or the local brownies’ coffee morning, trying to be a governor or a councillor, applying to education or training or employment – even volunteering in so many fields – with children, with the elderly, in care, with vulnerable people, with youth work, with social work – all need a DBS and then you get treated like some sort of pariah or sex offender! But it’s not fair – I never chose that life and I fought hard to get out of it but I’m always being pulled back to it as though that’s who I am but it’s not who I am.” Prostitution survivor.

The women describe their criminal records as a “catalogue of their abuse”, but as victims of rape and sexual abuse they appear to have no entitlement to anonymity in the disclosure process.

“As the judge recognised in an earlier hearing in this case, attitudes to women who have been groomed into prostitution have changed.  Most are controlled and coerced and therefore meet the wider definition of trafficking.  As such this policy is inconsistent with the Modern Slavery Act as it continues to punish victims” said Harriet Wistrich, solicitor for the women.

At Beyond the Streets our direct support projects – Beyond Support and Door of Hope – join women on their journey out of prostitution. We have seen first-hand, the challenge that criminal convictions pose to women as they seek to take steps into employment, with two Beyond Support clients giving testimony to this in evidence that was heard as part of the judicial review. As Karen Ingala Smith, CEO of NIA said in a recent article on the hearing, “It is incredibly difficult to get out of an abusive situation, including prostitution. It’s not as simple as just walking away. Having a criminal record running over several sides of paper cannot help”.
In light of this, we hope to see women’s criminal records for offences relating to Prostitution revoked and propose that looking forward intervention from the criminal justice system should focus on the offer of specialist support that helps women address the issues that cause them to sell sex and pursue genuine alternatives.

Read Nia’s I’m No Criminal report here.