Change the Met’s culture
The following is a brief introduction of the Soho Raids and an excerpt from a letter I sent to London’s Metropolitan Police in support of the Action Alert to Stop Attacks, Arrests & Evictions Against Sex Workers by the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP).
Last December, 200 officers in riot gear with dogs raided sex workers’ flats in Soho. Some women were handcuffed and dragged out in their underwear in front of the media. Closure Notices were issued against 18 flats and Closure Orders were then confirmed by a district judge in subsequent court cases. Soho is one of the safest places for women to work as they have a maid or receptionist with them and the support of the local community.
Police claimed in court that women were controlled because they were “required to work certain days of the week, between certain times and charge a specified amount of money for each service”. No “controller” was named or identified. District Judge Susan Williams found sex workers’ evidence “truthful”, admitted that “no evidence has been put before me of force and coercion” and acknowledged that a maid “is considered essential for safety”.
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I was appalled to learn about the actions of the police in Soho on December 4th, 2013. In my opinion, these actions in no way reflected the Metropolitan Police’s concept of ‘total policing’, apart from maybe the ‘total professionalism’ with which your officers mistreated sex workers during the raid. Adding insult to injury, you invited the media to witness and document the actions, enabling them to publicly humiliate sex workers present at the scene.
- A ‘total war on crime’ this was not, but a war on sex workers earning a livelihood in Soho.
- If you were looking for victims of human trafficking, then how come your staff lacked the ‘total care for victims’?
- If you were aiming to ‘cut crime’, then why did you choose to attack, harass and evict women selling sex, which is not a crime in England?
- If you wanted to ‘cut costs’, then why did you send 200 of your officers to conduct a major raid in Soho?
- What kind of ‘culture of the organisation’ do you aim to develop by evicting, detaining and harassing sex workers, by kicking down doors, closing working flats, confiscating money and personal belongings as well as manhandling women in the street in front of the media?
- Where’s the humility, integrity and transparency with which you aim to achieve this ‘culture’?
If you genuinely aim for the Met to become ‘the best police service in the world’, you might want to take a moment to listen to Chris Armitt, Assistant Chief Constable for People Development at Merseyside Police.
“I genuinely think that enforcement is short-term. It doesn’t have a long-lasting effect, and sadly, there were a number of case studies who would say that where very robust and overt police enforcement is taking place, shortly after that, the incidents of violent attacks on sex workers increased, and that is possibly because those who would target sex workers become emboldened by what they say as an intolerance to the actual activity taking place.” – Chris Armitt [See Video below]
I believe the two recent murders of Mariana Popa and Maria Duque-Tunjano should give you more than enough reason to rethink your ‘culture’. Both women were sex workers, one working on the street and one working indoors but alone.
I ask you not only to genuinely change the nature of your operations and the culture of your officers, but to have the closure orders against sex workers’ flats revoked with immediate effect. Throwing women out on the street, as your officers literally did on December 4th, demonstrates a complete and utter disregard for their lives and safety, a safety they enjoy when working together and inside.
The claims that the raids were somehow needed to investigate suspected trafficking and abuse have been shown to be without foundation. No victims were found and there have been no prosecutions for trafficking. Instead, several migrant sex workers were taken into custody and shanghaied to a detention centre of the UK Border Authority, despite having reassured officers that they had not been trafficked into the UK and were working voluntarily.
During a recent visit in Soho, I could well see the changes the community is under. By coincidence, I actually witnessed how well-dressed staff of Soho Estates wandered about the area in which the closed brothel apartments are located, discussing the plans they have for area – a stark reminder of what is actually at stake in Soho, an area that has always been famous among locals and tourists for its diversity. The writing surely is on the wall. Whatever property developers have in mind, however, does not give the police the right to harass sex workers and evict them from their premises.
I firmly oppose the closures and urge you to reverse them, apologise to the women you harassed and caused distress, reimburse them for their losses, and ensure that sex workers’ safety will be given a priority in all future actions by the Metropolitan Police. If you manage to establish links and trust with sex workers and local outreach organisations, as ACC Chris Armitt suggests, you are likely to see an increase in collaboration with sex workers and a decrease in criminal activity. If you continue down the same path, however, you will shoulder a big part of the responsibility of violence against sex workers. As Valerie Scott, one of the plaintiffs in the Bedford v. Canada case asked recently: “How many bodies have to pile up?”
Stop the closures!
Women are appealing against the evictions on 10, 17 and 24 February at Isleworth Crown Court. Please join them in demanding that these closures be stopped. Please write urgently addressing your letters to:
Borough Commander Alison Newcomb alison.newcomb[at]met.police.uk
Westminster Cllr. Nickie Aitkin in charge of community safety naiken[at]westminster.gov.uk
cc: English Collective of Prostitutes ecp[at]prostitutescollective.net
For a model letter click here.