Brexit Leaves Sex Workers ‘Screwed.’ Arrest, Deportation On Rise

Even as Britain’s political leaders continue to stumble when it comes to figuring out how to exit from the European Union, almost three years after United Kingdom voters narrowly approved the “Brexit” referendum, U.K. sex workers are already suffering increased harassment and arrests, according to a new report from the sex workers rights group, the English Collective of Prostitutes.

With large numbers of sex workers in the U.K. coming from other European countries, police have been stepping up arrests and even deportation proceedings—even though until Brexit is actually enacted, workers from other EU countries have the right to live and work in the U.K. Buying and selling sexual services is not illegal in the U.K, according to The Independent newspaper

“Migrant sex workers from EU countries like Romania, Albania and Poland do have the right to work in the U.K. but they have been picked up and deported,” Niki Adams, an ECP spokesperson, told The Independent. “The police were doing things like confiscating a woman’s travel documents or passport and saying, ‘We will only give this back to you if you produce a one-way ticket to Romania.’”

Adams said that police are simply taking advantage of racism that existed long before Brexit, but it appears to have been given some sort of a thumbs-up by the Brexit vote.

“Women have been arrested for loitering and soliciting many times in quick succession, then labelled a ‘persistent offender’ and told their presence in the U.K. was ‘not conducive to the public good,’” the ECP wrote in its report, titled Sex Workers are Getting Screwed by Brexit.  “In our view a woman working to support herself and her family is an asset to our community and society.”

The report actually covers the most recent five years, and documents 20 cases of women who “claim to have been targeted by police and immigration officials over the past five years and who, in some cases, have successfully defeated attempts to deport them,” The Independent reported.

In the report, the ECP cites British court decisions in which sex workers have been ruled to be “self employed” as “independent providers of services,” a status that the ECP says guarantees their legal right to reside and ply their trade in the U.K.—and the law applies to self-employed workers who work as little as three hours per day, according to the report.

“Since the Brexit vote, racist attacks on migrant sex workers have gone up, particularly against those of us who work on the street,” said ECP spokesperson Liliana Gash. “We work for a living like other workers, and our families and sometimes whole communities depend on the money we earn. How can the police then say we are not workers?” 

Photo by Christoph Scholz/Wikimedia Commons