Our award-winning reporting has moved

Context provides news and analysis on three of the world’s most critical issues:

climate change, the impact of technology on society, and inclusive economies.

INTERVIEW-Sex workers denied justice over rapes, says UK prostitutes' collective

by Sonia Elks | @SoniaElks | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 5 November 2019 12:33 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Niki Adams from the English Collective of Prostitutes, speaks during a demonstration in central London October 9, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Winning

Image Caption and Rights Information

It's estimated that about two-thirds of sex workers have suffered some kind of violence

By Sonia Elks

LONDON, Nov 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Police and prosecutors are becoming less willing to take action over rapes reported by sex workers, the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) said as a play highlighted their work to bring England's first private rape prosecution.

Nearly 25 years on from the landmark 1995 trial, sex workers still struggle to obtain justice over rape and other attacks at work as they face scepticism from officials and fear of being prosecuted themselves, said ECP member Niki Adams.

"At some point it seemed that things were improving," Adams told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Now feels that it is going backwards."

The ECP estimates about two-thirds of sex workers have suffered some kind of violence.

Adams said the play, "No Bad Women: Rape on Trial", "shows how sex workers face a character assassination in court, and that you get put on trial rather than the rapist".

"They often seem to imply that because you consented to any kind of sexual contact, that you have no right to refuse rape."

Police are working to build trust and improve safety for sex workers, said the National Police Chiefs' Council, and recent guidance underlines that officers must not start from a position of treating sex workers as criminals when they make a report.

Britain's Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said it would prosecute cases when there was sufficient evidence, and had trained staff to understand consent and worked to debunk myths and stereotypes around sex workers.

"Sex workers have the same rights with regards to consent as anyone else: the transactions they negotiate with clients are for consensual activities, not rape or sexual abuse," a spokesman said.

Data released in September revealed that rape convictions in England and Wales had fallen to a decade low in 2018-19, despite increasing reports to police.


The 1995 trial is detailed in "No Bad Women," about two sex workers who separately reported being raped at knifepoint by the same man but saw the case dropped by prosecutors in a move the ECP said was tainted by prejudice.

Angered by the decision, the ECP and Women Against Rape assembled a legal team that helped the women launch their own successful prosecution which saw the rapist convicted and jailed. Adams played a leading role in bringing the case.

Much of the play is based on trial transcripts, highlighting ways in which the victims' sex work was used to question their characters and cast doubts on their stories.

A central theme is women who are not seen as 'good victims' - from sex workers to drug users or even those with a history of mental health issues - who can face a battle to see their attackers prosecuted, said Adams.

"There are a lot of different reasons why women, particularly, are dismissed in court," she said.

"One of the things that we were saying is, who is respectable enough to get protection, really? Because it's a very small club."

A report for the Home Office which collected evidence from dozens of sex workers said "many" reported or feared physical or sexual violence at work, but those who had suffered attacks were often reluctant to report them to police.

Among concerns were laws aimed at sex work. Although Britain does not criminalise prostitution, sex workers can be prosecuted for offences including soliciting for clients and for brothel-keeping when they work together.

They therefore may risk being charged themselves if they report attacks, in addition to facing scepticism from officials.

"Everybody admits there is a very high level of violence against sex workers," said Adams.

"Men know that if they attack sex workers there is a very good chance they will get away with it."

(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Chris Michaud. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.