Sex Work, Trafficking and the Olympics: Call for a Moratorium on Arrests

x:talk, a workers’ collective in London, is calling for a stop to all arrests of sex workers as a way to reduce the harm associated with police handling of ‘trafficking’ associated (erroneously) with large sporting events. London is another place where selling sex is legal but surrounded by many vaguely defined activities that can cause arrest, notably the prohibition on working alongside someone else (even if they serve as your receptionist or security guard). Adverts like these in public phone boxes are also prohibited but continue to proliferate. Just about every prohibition is now justified as a way to stop trafficking, when most of the offences date back to efforts to limit the nuisance caused by prostitution.

Note the call is for a cessation of arrests of workers, not clients. Criminalisation of purchasing sex (an anti-client law) exists in a diluted form here that makes it an offence to pay for sex with a person controlled for another person’s gain, which clients may be charged for whether they knew about the control or not (what’s known as a strict liability clause). Yes, it’s a very vague idea and difficult to prosecute.

x:talk will be sending a letter to the Mayor of London requesting the moratorium. Get in touch if you are willing to be a signatory to the letter or if there is any other way you can support the campaign: moratorium2012 [at]

Sex Work and the Olympics: The Case for a Moratorium

1. x:talk and its supporters are calling for a moratorium on arrests of sex workers in London with immediate effect until the end of the Olympic Games.

2. Governments, charity organisations and campaign groups have argued that large sporting events lead to an increase in trafficking for prostitution. These claims, often repeated by the media, are usually based on misinformation, poor data and a tendency to sensationalise. There is no evidence that large sporting events cause an increase in trafficking for prostitution.[1]

3. These claims can lead to anti-trafficking policies and policing practices that target sex workers. In London, anti-trafficking practices have resulted in raids on brothels, closures and arbitrary arrests of people working in the sex industry. This creates a climate of fear among workers, leaving them less likely to report crimes against them and more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.[2] This is an inadequate response to sex work and to trafficking.

4. x:talk is aware of “clean-up efforts” already underway in London, particularly east London, in the run up to the Olympics. These include multiple raids and closure of premises. We anticipate that until the end of the Olympic games there will be a continued rise in the numbers of raids, arrests and level of harassment of sex workers.

5. A series of violent robberies on brothels by a gang in December in Barking & Dagenham demonstrates the effect that this climate of fear can have on the safety of sex workers. The effect of raids on brothels and closures in the area had eroded relations between sex workers and the Police with the result that the sex workers targeted by the gang were unwilling to report the attacks for fear of arrest. The gang were able to attack at least three venues in December 2011.[3]

6. In light of this, x:talk and its supporters are calling on the Mayor of London and London Metropolitan Police to suspend arrests and convictions of sex workers under the criminal laws laid out in Appendix 1.


Suspension of offences that refer directly to sex workers:

–  Soliciting (this should include soliciting penalties: rehabilitation orders and Anti-Social Behavioural Orders), s.1 (1) Street Offences Act, s.16, s.17 Policing and Crime Act 2009, s.1 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

–  Keeping a brothel, where the person deemed to be “keeping a brothel” is one or more of the people selling sexual services. Effectively, this means we are calling for a suspension of any arrests of sex workers who work collectively.


S. 1 (1) of the Street Offences Act 1959 makes loitering or soliciting for purposes of prostitution an offence. Section 16 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 amended s.1 of the Street Offences Act 1959 inserting the requirement that soliciting be “persistent”, defined as occurring twice within a three-month period.

A logical corollary of the suspension of laws relating to persistent soliciting would be the suspension of any new rehabilitation orders, as defined by s.17 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, and Anti-Social Behavioural Orders, as defined by s.1 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, that may follow breach of a rehabilitation order.

Keeping a brothel

S.33A of the Sexual Offences Act 1956, as inserted by s. 55(1) and (2) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, creates an offence of keeping, managing, acting or assisting in the management of a brothel to which people resort for practices involving prostitution (whether or not also for other practices). Prostitution is defined by section 51(2) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 as follows: a person (A) who, on at least one occasion and whether or not compelled to do so, offers or provides sexual services to another person in return for payment or a promise of payment to A or a third person.

S.33A therefore covers premises where two or more people provide sexual services at the same time. Where one or more person (who may or may not be offering sexual services) are found to be keeping, managing, acting or assisting in the management of that brothel they will be charged under s.33A. The required level of control over brothel activities varies but will be satisfied where there is evidence of a person seeing customers onto the premises, handling payments from customers, paying bills, placing advertisements in local papers (R v Alexsander Sochaki (2010) EWCA Crim 2708). However, we draw attention to the recent case of Claire Finch, who was unanimously acquitted of brothel keeping. Finch had accepted that she worked collectively from her own home providing sexual services and gave evidence it would be too dangerous for her to work alone. Finch’s barrister, relying on evidence that there had been numerous serious violent attacks on solitary street sex workers in Bedfordshire in recent years. successfully argued that Finch was entitled to rely on the defence of necessity.

Suspension of arrests of sex workers, administrative detainment and / or removal, during the enforcement of offences relating to third parties:

–  Sections 52-53 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 make it an offence to cause, incite or control a prostitute for gain. Section 54 defines gain as ‘any financial advantage, including the discharge of an obligation to pay or the provision of goods or services (including sexual services) gratuitously or at a discount, or the goodwill of any person which is or appears likely, in time, to bring financial advantage.’

Causing, inciting, controlling for gain

These offences, particularly s.53 controlling a prostitute for gain, are often the basis of raids[4] and will be accompanied by the arrest of sex workers for immigration offences.

During the enforcement of these offences we are calling for a suspension of all arrests of sex workers, including arrests and deportation procedures for immigration offences.

Suspension of the closure of premises:

–  S.21 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, which allows the closure of premises for up to three months where the police have reasonable suspicion that prostitution related offences (as defined by ss.52-53 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003) are being committed.

–  Brothel keeping charges make it an offence keep, manage or assist in the management of a brothel and for a landlord or tenant to let or permit their premises for the purposes of prostitution: s.33A-36 Sexual Offences Act 1956. Those keeping a brothel, landlords and tenants might be informed that if the behaviour does not desist, and the premises close, they will be liable for prosecution.[5]

Closure Notices and Orders

A Freedom of Information request issued by x:talk to the MET has revealed that in four of the five London Olympic boroughs only one closure order and notice has been applied for pursuant to s.21 of the Policing and Crime Act. However, the FOI states that “this response does not mean that no premises were closed, instead it confirms that no premises were closed in these four boroughs as a result of a notice issued under Section 21, Schedule 2 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 … premises usually respond to requests from Police to close and often other legitimate means of closing them are adopted, such as consultation with the landlord & follow through action resulting from that. Barriers to use of closure notices include civil court fees and consultation process.”

We therefore call for a suspension of police efforts to serve notices and close premises where they suspect prostitution offences are being carried out, whether in the pursuance of a closure order / notice under s.21 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, ss.33A-36 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956, or any other legal measure. However, it is important to note that our call for suspension does not apply to premises where child related prostitution or pornography offences are suspected (ss.47-50 Sexual Offences Act 2003). Our call relates solely to premises where prostitution offences under s.52-53 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 are suspected.

[1] Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW), (2011) What’s the Cost of a Rumour? A Guide to Sorting Out the Myths and Facts about Sporting Events and Trafficking.’s_the_Cost_of_a_Rumour-GAATW2011.pdf

[2] x:talk (2010), Human rights, Sex Work and the Challenge of Trafficking

[3] Owen Bowcott, “Call for change in law to protect prostitutes from violent crime”, Guardian 6/01/12,

[4] Crown Prosecution Service guidance for enforcement of s.53: “In investigating cases of controlling prostitution, the police may raid and disrupt brothels where local police policy previously had been one of toleration of off street prostitution.”

[5] Ibid 3, Owen Bancroft, Guardian 6/01/12

Quote from Metropolitan Police: “a notice has been served to the registered owner of the venue in Victoria Road under the auspices of section 33a of the Sexual Offences Act 1956. The notice formally notified the recipient that they were liable to prosecution should the premises in Victoria Road remain in use as a brothel.”

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

8 thoughts on “Sex Work, Trafficking and the Olympics: Call for a Moratorium on Arrests

  1. Maggie McNeill

    The assigning of new rationalizations to laws which predate the existence of those rationalizations by decades (sometimes centuries) is probably the most cynical, transparent and infuriating cloaks over the arbitrary nature of such laws, yet the masses just accept and parrot them without question.

    1. Laura Agustín

      Most people don’t realise it’s happening, of course – we notice because we are paying attention to detail. And then, most just believe there is a new scourge, as a fact, so even if the problem was nuisance before, now it’s trafficking.

      1. Maggie McNeill

        It’s not only this one, though; I’ve noticed a rash of bestiality prosecutions lately using the excuse of “animal cruelty” (even when the animals were male) despite the fact that such laws have been on the books for centuries and derived from Biblical injunctions.

  2. norskgoy

    Maybe the London Police should call their colleagues in Germany. I can remember the hysteria before the Football World Cup a few years ago.

    But then again, trafficking isnt what the government really cares about, at least as they can “clean” the streets.

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