Firstly, and fore mostly our thoughts are with the family and friends of Sarah as they come to terms with recent events and await the outcome of the trial. We were shocked and saddened to see the police response to her vigil in London on Sat. 12th March which we hoped could have been avoided given the context. Our thoughts are with everyone for whom this has been an emotional, tough week for many people engaged in the debates; in some cases bringing back painful traumatizing memories of past or more recent events.
In response to the above, we are distressed to see a number of politicians and activists also seeing the new policing bill and the current context (which has raised the plight of women and girls facing violence) to seek for changes in the law that would cause further harm to women we work with and support.
We saw a call for the end on stripclubs; against the wishes of those who perform there as this would be denying them their income source and risk driving the industry underground with less oversight and control than is currently the case. Such a call also seems to imply that the actions of women in this case are the reason for violent acts by men for which there is no evidence and is akin to victim blaming.
We also saw politicians and activists calling (again) for a law against kerb crawling. While perhaps well -intended, women we work with and sexworkers from around the country and indeed internationally tell us that criminalisation of clients makes it less safe for women to work, whether they work indoor or street, again ignoring the voices of women it affects most. While sexworkers are not directly criminalised by the proposed change in law, their association with criminal activity increases stigma and forces their work to be more hidden with direct implications for safety.
In addition, where limited opportunities are available for generating income in the first place for many sexworkers, reducing their opportunities without offering substantial additional unconditional, non-judgmental long-term support in place is unethical.
We are angered and upset by the recent events and we will be addressing the need for change in many related areas in partnership with our allies in Women’s Lives Leeds and invite everyone to look at the Women Friendly Leeds call to action on Safety Inequalities for Women. We will work hard independently and in cooperation with partners, including experts by experience, to affect systemic, long lasting change to address violence and girls both in prevention as well as the criminal justice system which we know all too often lets women down or worse re-traumatizes, as well as in society as a whole. We will continue to challenge stereotypes that place women and young girls at risk of harm.
We know that raising our voices and being physically present to share our experiences and demands for change can be extremely powerful and look forward to the day when COVID is no longer a consideration with such events. We stand in solitary with those protesting and sharing views in a non-violent manner. Nonetheless, given the legal restrictions linked to COVID and our commitment to work together to reduce COVID rates in Leeds, we welcome any initiatives that are being organised online in order to raise awareness of the violence women and girls face.