Police visits to sex workers' homes could leave them vulnerable to prosecution and assault says charity
Sex workers in Glasgow fear being prosecuted as police make unannounced visits to their homes under the guise of welfare visits.
Police Scotland said it was mounting Operation Lingle in a bid to make contact with sex workers who work from home.
It said it was working with a number of agencies and stressed that the operation is concerned with safety rather than criminalisation.
However sex-workers’ charity Scot-Pep said the visits were a “draconian shift in policy”. It fears women could end up being prosecuted for prostitution.
The charity said that as it is a crime for sex workers to work together – effectively creating a brothel – those that chose to work beside friends for safety reasons, by now choose to work by themselves and increase their risk of assault.
And the public will be encouraged to report neighbours to the police if they think they are operating as sex workers as part of the operation, Scot-Pep claimed.
Scot-Pep has now requested meeting with both Police Scotland and the Scottish Government to discuss the issue.
The evidence is clear - the public want to see the laws changed to protect sex workers, not the imposition of these sort of punitive raids in disguise
A spokesperson for the charity said: "No other members of the public are ever exposed to surprise police visits simply because of the nature of the lawful work they do. This scheme singles out sex workers for persecution and intimidation."
They added: "What's not clear, however, is whether Scottish ministers have approved this draconian shift in policy or whether Police Scotland are acting on their own initiative here.”
A poll in May found that 86.8% of Scots supported changing the law to make it legal for two or more sex workers to work independently from the same property.
"The evidence is clear – the public want to see the laws changed to protect sex workers, not the imposition of these sort of punitive raids in disguise."
Selling and purchasing sex is legal in Scotland unless it is solicited in public or done through a brothel or pimp.
Patrick Harvie MSP has lodged a series of parliamentary questions to establish the basis for the new approach.
Cat, a sex worker, said: "I work with a friend because it's so much safer. If a client were to turn nasty, I'd know I have her in the other room to help. Unbelievably though, working together means we could both get arrested. This operation makes me think I should start working alone, which is so so scary. There's so many assaults on women in Glasgow."
Amy, another sex worker, added: "The idea that I could open the door to an unexpected visit from the police is really frightening. This is about making us feel hunted, like criminals, even when we're not breaking any laws."
Detective chief inspector Ruth Gilfillan, of the National Rape Taskforce and Human Trafficking Unit, said the operation was about sex workers' welfare. .
She said: "Police Scotland and a wide range of partners, including the local authority, health and third sector organisations, including Scot-Pep, want to improve the safety, improve engagement and address the support needs of those working in the off-street sex industry.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman added: “We will consider Scot-Pep's request for a meeting with the cabinet secretary, once a formal request has been received."