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On the brothel raids in Soho

This morning, police entered premises in London’s Soho and arrested a number of people. Latest reports say 22. In an official statement, Chief Superintendent Paul Rickett said:

“Victims have identified brothels where they have been trafficked for sexual exploitation and raped.”

Commander Alison Newcomb of Westminster Police said:

“This is not about the prosecution of prostitutes, this is about making the area safe. We do know a lot of the women are trafficked or are vulnerable so this is about taking the danger out of Soho.”

So a quick question: if safety of the women involved is genuinely what the police were concerned about, then why the hell did they subsequently allow (or, indeed, invite) reporters to take gratuitous pap shots of the women involved?

Put aside your views on sex work

This issue isn’t about whether you approve or disapprove of sex work. Personally, I think that making money by selling sexual skills is as valid a life choice as making money by singing for strangers, fixing cars, or pushing paper across a desk until beer o’clock on Friday.

I’d further opine that those who are anti-sex work because they’re concerned about trafficking have got their logic knickers in a twist. If you hate trafficking, coercion and rape then you’re not anti-sex work per se, you’re anti-trafficking, anti-coercion, and anti-rape. Which we all are.

But even if you disagree with me on the work itself, I cannot see how you can be anything other than shocked that these photos were taken, let alone printed in the Evening Standard.

Focus on the pictures

In nearly all of the pictures, the women involved are covering their faces. What better way to categorically state “I do not want you to photograph me.” These women have removed their consent to be photographed by anyone.

But no matter, of course, because the most important thing to the press is that we get a good long look at groups of women who – *sexy shiver* – will fuck you for money. Go on, have a nice little look: that’s free.

At the same time as the press are slavering over these women, the Chief Superintendent is giving a statement which highlights the fact that the police believe some of them have been used and abused in the line of their work. Can you remember the last time you saw a story where the victim of a crime, or someone who was supposedly being protected, was photographed against their will and slapped all over a national paper while the police stood by and did nothing? Me neither.

As the excellent @Fornicatrix put it:

They pixelated those faces as much for our uninhibited viewing pleasure as for their privacy. Who cares about the privacy of whores right?

Why were photos taken of the brothel raids in Soho?

The police believe that in performing these raids, they’d secure the safety of women who had been trafficked or coerced into working there. There are two possibilities here:

– Option one: the police are mistaken, and these women are working off their own bat. If this is the case then the women, rather than having been ‘made safe’ have been subjected to some incredibly intrusive press attention. In fact, as the English Prostitutes Collective pointed out, they’ve potentially been put in danger: “The police must know that some women will end up working on the street as a result, where it is much more dangerous.”

– Option two: the police are right, and these women have been trafficked and coerced. If this is the case then what they have just done is lined some victims up in front of the paparazzi, and just let them snap away.

I’m not an expert on sex work, this is just my initial kneejerk ‘WTF’. But I think this needs discussing because, well, WTF. If you’ve read any other good blogs on this topic, or written any yourself, I’d love to hear more from people about it, especially if you’re more informed than I am on sex work and the myriad issues surrounding it. Please leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it to this blog post when I can.

@NymphomaniacNes has posted on this topic too – I’d recommend you check out her thoughts as well.

And this great piece from @sassylapdancer, which was recommended to me on Twitter.

You might also want to check out this petition.

And read @pastachips, who has given a brilliant overview of the ‘saving women’ issue in the Guardian.


  • Korhomme says:

    It would be nice to think that the cops have better things to do than rounding up a few girls in Soho. Who benefits from this? What end do they achieve? Apart from a few brownie points somewhere?

  • Roger says:

    It’s as though the police were saying, “It pains me to admit it, but even these girls are entitled to the protection of the law. I mean… just look at them!”

    Mealy mouthed, hypocritical bullshit!

    I’ll reblog this if I may.

  • TommyOD says:

    They won’t have thought of the women as people, more as trophies for a PR exercise showing how they have broken up a trafficking ring. As usual the victims and their concerns do not factor into their thinking. To them it will be like displaying a drugs haul when they find a large stash.

    • Girl on the net says:

      God, that analogy is horrible. But I think you’re right – there is certainly a whiff of that about those images.

  • jdgalt says:

    If I’m ever present when the police raid a place of any kind, I *hope* the press will be there with cameras rolling, if only to at least slightly inhibit the police from beating everybody up and breaking things for the fun of it.

    When I grew up, you were supposed to join the army if you wanted to do that.

  • discoagogo says:

    a little convenient that all the soho brothels happen to get raided while the Raymonds are trying to sell the buildings to developers, no?

    This is not about the safety of the women, or the potential trafficking the police have long known about, its purely about money

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