The recession and a saturated market is putting sex workers at greater risk of violence, according to a study from Westminster Council.
Following on from similar excellent work by the London Assembly's Andrew Boff (PDF) last year, Westminster finds that sex workers are more likely to be murdered, raped, assaulted and robbed. Yet they're less likely to report the crimes, mainly because of poor relationships with the police – who, Sapphire Unit apart, tend to focus on the sex worker's own legal activity rather than crimes committed against them. Some gangs target sex workers because of their vulnerability and a perception that criminals will get away with their actions. Add in the economic climate, with more people taking up sex work and a fall in prices, and there's been an increase in risky behaviour – accepting clients who, previously, would have been given short shrift.
In an article yesterday in the Huffington Post, Andrew Boff argues for a policy instigated in Merseyside under then Chief Constable Bernard Hogan-Howe (now Metropolitan Police Commissioner) that sex workers should be given hate crime victim status:
Using the term 'hate crime' is not about giving any group special treatment. In fact, usually the groups in this category are those who have historically received worse treatment from the police. This is about accepting that some criminals are effectively bullies who target people, not because they are a threat or have money, but because of the vulnerable minority with whom they are associated.
Crimes against sex workers aren't just contained within the sex industry, either. Violence against sex workers often spills over into the wider community. Westminster recommends tackling these crimes with a zero tolerance approach to violence and without a moral stance on sex work, to make us all safer.