SCOT-PEP STATEMENT on Edinburgh City Council's decision to withdraw sauna licensing

SCOT-PEP STATEMENT on Edinburgh City Council's decision to withdraw sauna licensing:

SCOT-PEP is disappointed in Edinburgh City Council's decision to remove licenses from the saunas. This will mean that women are working in constant fear of traumatising and counter-productive raids on their workplaces. This will further erode the already shaken trust that women working in these premises have in the police and in the justice system; making women far less likely to feel able to report crimes against them. Violent people will know to target these women precisely because they will know that the women feel unable to rely on police help. 
 
Violence against sex workers increases when our workplaces are criminalised. In 2007, when Edinburgh brought in kerb-crawling legislation that targeted street-based sex workers and clients, reported attacks on sex workers went up by 95% within six months. 
 
Premises will be driven under ground, away from service providers such as health workers. With Police Scotland persisting in its policy of using condoms as evidence of sex work - against the explicit recommendations of the World Health Organization - workers will fear to keep large quantities of condoms on their premises, as this could be used to criminalise women. This policy has obvious negative implications for the ability of women to protect their health, as well as wider public health implications in Scotland. Police Scotland and Edinburgh City Council would do well to recall that the saunas were put in place to tackle the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s. Complacency on this issue is ill-founded. HIV was successfully tackled in Edinburgh through policies that centred harm reduction; if we remove those policies, we may well see a corresponding rise in HIV transmission. 
 
Raids on saunas are a waste of police resources, especially at a time when organisations like National Ugly Mugs, who seek to prevent violence against sex workers, are facing catastrophic loss of funding. SCOT-PEP pioneered the first UK 'ugly mugs' scheme, to enable sex workers to share with each other information about violent people posing as clients. Sex worker-led organisations are the experts in what sex workers need to be safer; the experts in what sex workers need to access services more effectively. The further criminalisation of sex workers, those associated with sex workers, and our workplaces, has been shown again and again to endanger those working, whether they are there through choice, circumstance, or coercion. Sex workers need health services and a justice system that prioritises our safety - which has to include our safety if we continue working, as well as if we choose to 'exit'. The removal of the sauna licenses puts sex workers at risk. 
 
SCOT-PEP calls on Edinburgh City Council to listen to the voices of current sex workers, who are calling for full decriminalisation, including of our colleagues, managers, workplaces, and clients. Sex workers are also calling for better services based around what each individual states they need, rather than upon imposing a rigid ideological framework onto sex workers. Sex workers need full decriminalisation now, and better services.