You would scarcely know that selling sex on your own is legal in England from reading this story about a town in the Midlands. Residents get annoyed by the sight and sound of interactions between street workers and punters, and contradictory laws make pleasing everyone impossible. But note how this particular ‘prostitution campaign’ is aimed at stopping it, at moving prostitutes on – to where? To nowhere.
How is this possible if it is legal to sell sex? Because a lot of other activities are not legal, including kerb-crawling, owning a brothel, working in a brothel and a range of promotional activities, including soliciting, loitering and putting up cards with contact information in public places. The result is that the person standing in the street looking for customers gets moved on, over and over.
Campaigns against kerb-crawling belong to the now-common End Demand strategy, which, in its most pretentious form aspires to stop everyone on the planet from ever buying sex from other people. Other techniques include attempting to shame world-be clients about their masculinity, as Spanish billboards illustrate. Kerb-crawling is a far more modest police target which only wants to stop cars from stopping to discuss sexual transactions with people in the street. Tactics include signs like these, closed-circuit television cameras, threats to post names publicly and the occasional street operation to arrest drivers, to which the media are invited so pictures will show how active the police are. Meanwhile, the sex workers are moved on. Here is the story from Luton.
24 December 2010, Luton Today
Police are hailing a four month long operation to combat prostitution in High Town as a resounding success. The number of complaints made to officers regarding sex workers and anti-social behaviour in the area have fallen dramatically say police, after an operation involving several other local authorities including Luton Borough Council, began in August. The three phased campaign was launched after mounting anger from residents.
It included an observation stage where officers talked to sex workers followed by high profile police action and publicity aimed at deterring kerb crawlers. The latest phase of the campaign, which lasted eight weeks, came to an end last week with the metal lamp post signs and billboard at Dudley Street being removed.
Regular patrols aimed at deterring and arresting kerb crawlers has seen the number of vehicles fall and far fewer people loitering on street corners. . .
. . . we think the three phase approach has really worked to deter the problem and at the last High Town meeting, residents said that they were keen to see the signs and billboard used elsewhere should it be necessary. Obviously, the sex trade has been and will continue to be, a longer term problem so the partnership is still actively responding to residents’ concerns. Where we’ve heard of sex workers loitering at new locations we’ve visited the affected residents, started observations and redeployed street cleaning services to remove litter and needles.
The Luton News exclusively revealed in September how Operation Turtle had seen police step up patrols in High Town asking sex workers to move on, issuing warning letters to kerb-crawlers and adding their details to the police Automatic Number Plate Recognition database so they could be easily identiﬁed if they reoffended. . .
— Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist