Prostitutes told to reform or face jail

// 22 August 2007

The government plans to put prostitutes behind bars if they are caught soliciting sex, reports The Guardian.

Under the proposed legislation, the courts will be able to force women to attend three sessions with an “expert”, to talk about exiting prostitution. But if they fail to appear, they will face arrest and up to 72 hours in jail.

The landmark 1982 Criminal Justice Act removed the power of courts to jail prostitutes for soliciting, replacing the threat of custodial sentences with fines. But the new Criminal Justice and Immigration bill, which will be debated in parliament in October, gives magistrates powers to detain soliciting prostitutes in prison for up to three days on remand if they fail to attend mandatory counselling sessions and ignore court orders.

If the government was really interested in helping women out of sex work, then why do it this way? After all, nothing says ‘I’m trying to help you’ like prison for not complying. Of course, this approach is completely backward: it would do much more for women to take the Swedish approach, of completely decriminalising being a prostitute, but going after the men who seek to buy sex and exploit women.

‘No one wants more women in prison, let alone for missing meetings,’ said Will Higham of the Prison Reform Trust. ‘The sad thing is the bill shows a real ambition to work with the causes of prostitution, but this fails utterly to understand that vulnerable people with chaotic lives can’t be asked to walk a tightrope.’

Even probation officers are convinced it will be ineffective:

‘This is yet another example of the state’s wish to exert moral disapproval of prostitution while recognising that it will not go away,’ said Harry Fletcher, assistant general-secretary of the probation officers’ union, Napo. ‘The threat of custody is extremely punitive.’

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