Sex workers smothered London’s Piccadilly Circus in red umbrellas on Tuesday to protest against the criminalisation of their profession.
Scores of workers from the nearby Soho district gathered at the Eros statue in the heart of the capital, stopping traffic to highlight their opposition to the government’s Policing and Crime Bill.
Carrying the red umbrellas as a symbol of their resistance to the new law, sex workers’ rights activists declared that it would ‘push prostitution further underground and push us into more danger.’
English Collective of Prostitutes organiser Karen Mitchell explained that the Bill, championed by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, would ‘make it easier to for the police to arrest sex workers on the street and give them powers to seize our earnings and property regardless of whether there is a conviction.’
Referring to reports that Ms Smith’s ministerial expenses included pornographic DVDs, Ms Mitchell said: ‘It is ironic that the minister makes expense claims for products from the sex industry while waging this fundamentalist moral crusade against us.’
Ms Mitchell pointed out that ‘many sex workers are single mothers and prostitution is a survival strategy to deal with debt, low wages and unemployment.
‘As the recession hits harder, more women are likely to resort to prostitution and the government should be providing resources and support for them, rather than stigmatising and criminalising them.’
Sex worker activist Ava Caradonna, who organises English classes for migrant workers in Soho, insisted that the women and men who sell sexual services ‘don’t need and don’t want other people making choices for us.
‘Ministers want to criminalise our work, but we want to do what we do – and we want to organise and take charge of our own lives to make conditions better,’ she added.
International Union of Sex Workers and GMB union organiser Catherine Stephens stressed that unionising the industry would empower those who choose to be sex workers.
‘This is not a job for everyone, but we ask those who criticise our choices to at least respect that choice and respect my right to do what I want with my body,’ she declared.
Danish activist Zanne agreed, pointing out that ‘sex workers all over the world are organising,’ while Italian Andrea added that the government should ‘legalise the industry instead of attacking us.’
Ms Caradonna added that ‘those who want more oppressive laws need to listen to the workers and their union.’
‘Abolition is not the answer because prostitution will never end. Instead we need some respect,’ she stated.