Criminalisation of sex workers in the context of murder

Violence against women is one of the factors at play when female sex workers are killed. But large amounts of evidence from around the world have shown that another major factor is the criminalisation of those involved in the sex industry. Ingala Smith isolated the death of Daria Pionko here in Leeds as a reason why the purchase of sex should be criminalised. Pionko was murdered since the development of a new approach to street sex work – women can work in a designated area of the city without being prosecuted for soliciting. What Ingala Smith didn’t mention was that four sex workers have been killed in Leeds since 1990, three under a policy of criminalisation of sex workers and buyers. Pionko was a migrant sex worker. Of 18 UK sex workers murdered since 2013, more than half have been migrant women, indicating a targeting of vulnerability exacerbated by criminalisation and stigmatisation.

Under the new approach we have seen a 10-fold increase in crimes against sex workers reported to police, and have secured convictions for violent crimes never achieved before. The Femicide Census is all about understanding the killings of women in context. It was a shame to see the context of sex worker murders stripped away to argue for the criminalisation of sex buyers, a policy that has such a weak evidence base.

Dr Kate Brown
University of York; trustee, Basis Sex Work Project, Leeds
Paddy Trimmer
Chair, Basis Sex Work Project, Leeds