Naming sex buyers ‘harmful to sex workers’: Safe Space London

(File photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo / dmitrimaruta)

A support centre for sex workers in London is calling on the city’s police service to reverse its decision to name those who are charged with purchasing sexual services.

Safe Space London has started an online petition in the hope of reversing the decision to publicly release the names of “johns”, which was announced during a London Police Services Board meeting last week by Chief John Pare.  During the meeting, Pare said the new policy decision was made to reduce the demand for purchasing sexual services “and enhance public safety of these victims of human trafficking.”

However, Safe Space refutes that rationale and said the decision will actually make it more dangerous for sex workers within the City of London.

“This approach, along with other ‘end demand’ initiatives are directly harmful to sex workers. It does not end demand, but pushes sex workers into more isolated working conditions, [and] out of the reach of supports,” Safe Space said on its online petition. “Less clients does not translate into less demand, less sex workers at risk, or less folks trafficked. It does mean longer working hours in more risky, isolated location to ensure finances are secured. It also means lowered rates, which breeds competition among workers, and erodes sex worker communities.”

The centre also said the police service did not provide any notice to the community prior to its policy change to allow those affected to address “the safety concerns this decision generates.”

While Safe Space is calling for the full decriminalization of the act of purchasing sex, the centre said, in the meantime, the police department should further discuss the issue with current sex workers in the city.

“You are publicly shaming our clients. Clients who are all types of individuals, and yes, from all walks of life. Clients who haven’t done anything except engage in a consent-based transaction. And while you are required to enforce the law, the added personal cost attached to this new policy will be paid off on our backs,” Safe Space said.

The centre also accuses the police department of seeking direction solely from the head of the London Abused Women’s Centre, Megan Walker. Walker has advocated for the police to name “johns” for almost a decade.

“This is the wrong direction for communities to take to address the very serious concerns around human trafficking,” the centre said. “[The London Police Service’s] unwillingness to invite us to the table is blatantly obvious. It is no wonder why nobody in our Safe Space community trusts cops. You abuse your power, you continue to ensure the public sees us as victims, but at the same time ignoring a whole community of consenting adults when we tell you our lives and choices are more complex than simply being victims. You assume everybody is a victim, and ignore cries to decriminalize sex work to ensure we have safer working conditions.”

Safe Space said it has no intention of backing down from changing what it calls “poor policy development.”

As of Thursday night, the online petition had garnered around 195 signatures.