Spiced-up vice

Submitted by AWL on 3 November, 2008 - 11:16 Author: Cathy Nugent

From the start this programme’s commentary promised “spiced up” footage and propaganda. And I was hoping to see a proper documentary. “We look at the dark and dangerous netherworld [of London’s sex industry]” the programme makers said. And, “We look at the work of the Clubs and Vice Squad... who have become a byword for integrity and honesty.”

As far as the dangers of the sex industry go, we get to hear just a few facts, but not their true implication; we get to see some dangers faced by sex workers, but not the total story.

For instance the programme reported that two-thirds of female prostitutes have been raped and half of those five times or more. Awful enough, but we really need to know more. We are not told for instance whether the figures are different for women working on the streets than for women working indoors.

That’s an important point because the government is now engaged in a drive against brothels, closing them down, and this is being vigorously opposed by prostitutes and campaigners who say working indoors, depending on the circumstances, is a much, much safer working environment.

The programme followed the investigation of the police into groups of traffickers. In one case where men brought women into the country and forced them to work in prostitution, I was glad the police caught them and locked them up.

But the programme makers themselves stated in three out of four situations of trafficking, women are voluntarily paying people to get into the UK so they can find work in the sex industry. What do the police do in these situations? Do they treat everybody in the same way? We are not told, and therefore are given no opportunity to assess the facts and the implications.

As a propaganda film for the work of the police, I’m not sure it did the job very well. We are told police “protect” sex workers and no longer see them as criminals, but as “victims”. The language of victimhood is problematic for many sex workers, who do not see their situation as victimhood. But even so, did the film even show the police actually “protecting and serving”, really helping people they supposedly see as “victims”? Not really.

We see the fact that one policeman had been assigned to look into the unsolved murders of prostitutes. One single detective inspector!

We see the police spend three nights picking up 19 kerb crawlers in East London, taking them down the cop shop to be DNA swabbed and finger printed. Apparently this procedure — having DNA profiles sit on a database — is the best way to solve rape and murder crimes. But how about reducing the risk of rape and murder in the first place? Or making it easier for women to report rape to the police?

But the worst aspect of this programme was the absence of information about the government’s current proposed legislation on sex workers. The only public policy information was about the 2012 Olympics — that there is great concern (from whom?) that London, and east London in particular, will become the “sex capital of Europe”.

Given the programme makers must have had access to high ranking officials in the Met, they were here telling us something the policy makers haven’t wanted to be open about. Is this the real impetus behind the proposed law which will crack down on kerb crawling and brothels? To drive prostitutes off the streets? So much for not criminalising prostitutes!

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