Press release: New tool launched to protect sex workers against police raids

New tool launched to protect sex workers against police raids


Sex worker-led Scottish charity SCOTPEP will today launch a 'know your rights card' (you can read and download the card here) for indoor sex workers in response to ongoing criminalisation and sex workers’ reports of increasingly punitive policing approaches following the merger of Scotland's police forces. SCOTPEP’s ‘know your rights’ card launch is supported by national UK charity National Ugly Mugs, whose aim is to protect sex workers from violence, and by NUS Scotland Women’s Officer, Vonnie Sandlan.


The development of the ‘know your rights’ card follows sex workers' reports that Police Scotland have not always followed due process - including not properly making people aware of what rights they have. SCOTPEP believes that sex workers deserve to know their rights. The charity also argues that the current system of criminalisation intrinsically deprives sex workers of rights, particularly the right to safety. Under current laws, two women working together for safety can be arrested and each charged with ‘brothel-keeping’ the other. This, SCOTPEP argues, forces sex workers to work alone - making them vulnerable to dangerous men posing as clients. In polling done last year for SCOTPEP by Survation, 86.8% of the Scottish public agreed that the law should be changed to allow two sex workers to work from the same flat for safety(1), indicating that Police Scotland is dangerously out of step with the priorities of the public.


Despite all this, Police Scotland seem more interested in prosecuting sex workers than in keeping them safe. In July, SCOTPEP was forced to whistle-blow on police plans to conduct “raids in disguise” on indoor workers, which Police Scotland misleadingly described as “welfare visits”. Questions were raised in Holyrood about the surveillance and civil liberties implications of these raids, with police officers engaging in unprecedented levels of spying both on sex workers and on the public.


Nadine Stott, co-chair of SCOTPEP, said:


“One of the many concerns we had about these so-called ‘welfare visits’ was the way that the police disregarded sex workers’ consent. Your right to consent to receiving support relies on your ability to say ‘no’, as well as ‘yes, thanks’. In a context where the police routinely prosecute sex workers simply for trying to keep safe, having officers unexpectedly turn up on your doorstep carries a power-dynamic that makes it hard for sex workers to say ‘go away, please’. That’s in addition to the reports we’re hearing of Police Scotland not even following due process. We want to give power back to sex workers, and that’s what this card does: if you’re familiar with your rights, you are more able to accept or decline support on your own terms - and we think all support should be on your own terms, else it’s not really support.


“At SCOTPEP we think the law should start putting sex workers’ safety first - and our polling shows that the Scottish public agrees with us. We’re calling on Police Scotland to halt all raids on sex workers, and on policy-makers to look at the evidence: the laws that best protect sex workers’ safety, rights and health are the New Zealand model. New Zealand was the first country in the world to give women the vote on equal terms to men - now we need Scotland to follow New Zealand’s progressive lead once more, and legislate for sex workers’ safety.”


Alex Feis-Bryce, Director of Services at National Ugly Mugs, said:


"As a charity dedicated to helping sex workers try to keep safe, we see at close-range the way that the criminalisation of sex work makes sex workers more vulnerable to dangerous people. For indoor sex workers, the way that brothel-keeping laws are used is particularly concerning - to criminalise people working together for safety, and as an excuse for traumatic and frightening police raids. We will be distributing this rights card to the sex workers in our network in Scotland, and urge Police Scotland to pursue a harm reduction approach and not to engage in enforcement activity or brothel raids which only serve to put sex workers at risk. Ultimately, the law needs to change - we need laws like those in New Zealand, to put sex worker safety first."


Kat, a sex worker, said:


“The cops come in, they take your money, your phone, your laptop - and if you’re working with a friend, they prosecute you both. How can that be right? Sex workers aren’t harming anyone. The police should be focusing on rapists, not on people just trying to get by. The idea that a police officer at my door would be a form of ‘support’ is absurd - I’m scared of the police, and so far as I can see, that’s their aim. This ‘know your rights’ card should help, because they’re hardly going to tell me if I’m legally allowed to ask them to leave me alone, are they?”


Vonnie Sandlan, NUS Scotland Women’s Officer, said:


"SCOTPEP's 'know your rights' card will be an invaluable resource for all sex workers, including those who may also be students. We will be encouraging student unions across Scotland to distribute the card to their members. It's clear that criminalisation and punitive policing are a major concern for student sex workers, and initiatives like this that seek to give power to sex workers in their interactions with the police are so important."

indoor sex workers in Scotland: the Police and your rights