The Protection of Prostitutes
March 6, 1979 — House of Commons, Parliament, London, England, UK
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Sexual Offences Act 1956 and the Street Offences Act 1959; to provide for the better protection of prostitutes from exploitation and victimisation; and for connected purposes.
In seeking leave to present a Bill for the protection of prostitutes, I am aware that it will not be a popular issue in the House in a general election year, but I am convinced that it is a reforming issue that the House should no longer overlook. The Bill seeks to amend the Sexual Offences Act 1956 and the Street Offences Act 1959 and to provide for prostitutes better protection from exploitation and victimisation.
The present laws, which are over 20 years old, have not attacked prostitution; they have merely been an invitation to treat all prostitute women unjustly. They have attacked their civil liberties and lost them many human rights. I do not hide the fact that I believe that all prostitution laws must be abolished, but the amendments are an attempt at this stage to put injustices right quickly and to jog the memory of the House about the bad legislation that was introduced in the post-Wolfenden era. The amendments should also ensure that the law applies equally to men and women.
Prostitution has grown since the 1959 Act. With the best intentions, and wishing to deter prostitution, Parliament at that time introduced this appalling legislation, which has prevented women, once convicted, from getting away from prostitution. It has given a woman the stigma “common prostitute” for the rest of her life, and forced her back on to the streets to pay the ever-increasing fines. The amendment will abolish prison sentences. Women should not be imprisoned for soliciting. That view is supported by probation officers, lawyers, social workers and even the Police Federation.
The Bill will establish one simple offence to cover all persistent street nuisances, not only soliciting, and evidence from the person or persons annoyed will be an absolute requirement. The offence will include kerb-crawling, persistent salesmen, drunks and members of religious Toggle showing location of Column 1095
sects who attempt to sell people records on the street. I emphasise that it is only the peculiar sexual hypocrisy of the British that would single out prostitution or soliciting as an offence.
The Street Offences Act 1959, which deals with soliciting, was a mistake. It is wrong that a woman can be in danger of a prison sentence without a shred of evidence being produced in court that anyone has been affronted by her actions. Moreover, the present laws ensure that the incompetent prostitute, the working-class girl, is the one who gets into trouble. Successful and competent prostitutes operate within the law; it is the immature, inexperienced, ageing or socially inadequate women who are the victims. These women, during a period of police observation, do not succeed in picking up a man, and they are arrested. That is usually followed by a caution or charge, fines and returning to the game to pay them.
It is a totally unjust system that a woman can be twice cautioned on the evidence of a single police officer. On a third occasion, still on the evidence of a single and often the same police officer, she can be charged with loitering with intent for the purposes of prostitution. If she pleads not guilty before the court, the same police officer reads out the evidence of his two cautions. Before any offence has been proved, a person innocent in the eyes of the law can be labelled as a common prostitute. There will be provision in the Bill to abolish the term “common prostitute”.
The Sexual Offences Act 1956 will be amended to delete that part which classifies more than two women living together as a brothel. That law has forced prostitutes into the hands of organised crime, making them totally dependent upon ponces and pimps and part of a terrifying mafia. They must be able to live together to protect one another. The sooner that that happens, the better for the women concerned.
Finally, I emphasise that prostitutes and prostitution are not a menace. I have spoken with many eminent psychiatrists who say that it is accepted in their profession that prostitutes have great therapeutic value in society. In this country the Reichian school of psychiatrists uses sex therapy. Many psychiatrists accept Toggle showing location of that prostitutes are the oldest therapists in the world and are practitioners of professional therapy. Indeed, they help people deprived of sex to sort out their problems. Prostitutes deal primarily with all the sexual things that have gone wrong.
The first people to whom men go when they have sexual inadequacies and problems are prostitutes. Therefore, to some people in society there is great respectability in and acceptance of prostitution and its social and therapeutic value. It is time that the degradation, the harassment, imprisonment and fining of these women was stopped.
To sum up, this short amending Bill to existing Acts seeks to abolish prison sentences for soliciting, establish one offence to cover all persistent street nuisances with evidence from the persons annoyed, abolish the term “common prostitute” and delete that part of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 which classifies more than two women living together as “a brothel”. I hope that the Bill will have the support of the House.
Source: Hansard, Volume 963, Column 1094-1097.