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Sex worker safety and the Poppy Project

June 1, 2009, London -- Big Brothel: a Survey of the Off-Street Sex Industry in London, was published in the fall of 2008, claiming to be “the most comprehensive study ever conducted into brothels in the UK.” The report was republished almost a month before the October 8 deadline of a Home Office consultation into proposals to amend existing legislation on prostitution and brothels. 27 academics from prestigious universities across the UK and overseas have stated that the report “exhibits serious flaws in its mode of data collection and analysis”, as well as raising serious ethical questions about the methodology used to collect data. Here are two responses to the Big Brothel report:

If the Poppy Project is concerned about prostitutes being criminalised, where is it when the law raids, detains and deports women (Letters, 26 May); when mothers working collectively face closure, brothel-keeping charges, imprisonment and separation from their children; or when women driven out of premises risk rape or murder on the street?

While anti-rape organisations struggle to survive, the Poppy Project has received £9.5m from the Office for Criminal Justice Reform since 2003. Its research implying that most sex workers had been trafficked was condemned as flawed by 27 academics. The legal definition of trafficking for prostitution, unlike all other trafficking, fails to mention coercion. So foreign accents alone can inflate figures, which are then used to justify laws criminalising both clients and sex workers. High figures lead to large funding, not to women's safety.

Cari Mitchell
English Collective of Prostitutes

The Poppy Project claims it is feminist. My feminist organisation in Turkey was approached by a group of sex workers after the police smashed streetlights where they worked, making them vulnerable to attack. Should we have refused to help on the basis that their job legitimises men's violence against women? No, we considered that sex workers knew best how to protect themselves, and supported them. Even if you are against prostitution, you should distinguish yourself from the Home Office - though this is harder if, like the Poppy Project, you are funded by it.

Filiz Gul
London

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