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Police harassment fears as sex workers given rights advice

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​Police Scotland says it is reaching out to sex workers - but a charity has accused them of harassment

A charity has produced “know your rights” cards for indoor sex workers in case they get targeted by the police.

Scot-Pep published the advice in Romanian, Thai, Portuguese, Polish and Mandarin in response to fears prostitutes are being put in danger by law enforcement.

Police Scotland says its ongoing Operation Shaw, which sees police visit sex workers are home or in premises, is to offer advice and support.

However, the charity that works with prostitutes says it is worried the visits are being used to harass prostitutes.

Know your rights cards are a crucial tool that sex workers can use to help keep safe from the police

Scot-Pep produced English language versions of the cards earlier this year – and it has now translated the information into multiple languages due to concerns that migrant sex workers are particularly vulnerable to harassment and criminalisation.

The launch of these know your rights cards has been welcomed by UK sex worker safety charity National Ugly Mugs and by the National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland.

Scot-Pep co-chair Nadine Stott said: “Know your rights cards are a crucial tool that sex workers can use to help keep safe from the police.

“Indoor sex workers have been voicing increased concerns to us around the intensification of policing in this area, particularly in regards to Police Scotland’s harmful and misguided Operation Lingle, now re-named Operation Shaw.

“Scot-Pep heavily criticised Operation Lingle at the time of its launch. In a legal context where the police prosecute sex workers, it’s completely inappropriate to use police surveillance and unannounced police visits to deliver support or advice to people who sell sex.

“We have now seen that part of Police Scotland’s own remit with regards to Operation Shaw is to identify other criminality. For sex workers in our network, this raises the frightening possibility that Police Scotland are conducting surveillance and surprise home visits on sex workers under the veneer of offering help and support, while in fact looking for opportunities to criminalise sex workers for drug use, immigration offences, or anything else they can find."

Kat, a sex worker, said: “Police Scotland continue to prosecute indoor sex workers just for working with a friend. Sharing a flat with another sex worker is a key way we try to keep safe, but the law forces us to choose between fear of attack and fear of arrest.

“Know your rights cards are so important in enabling sex workers to turn the police away at the door – you need to be sure of your rights to know that you don’t have to let them in! It’s incredibly alarming that Police Scotland are also using these visits, which they claim are about offering support and advice, to covertly assess whether we’re breaking any laws. How can we trust help and advice that comes with the possibility of prosecution?”

Vonnie Sandlan, president of NUS Scotland, said: “NUS Scotland has long supported sex workers’ rights and safety and I’m delighted to support the launch of these know your rights cards today.

“Many students are both migrants and sex workers, and these cards represent an important tool in empowering these workers to resist heavy-handed policing and to claim their rights.”

Police Scotland has stringently denied it is narassing prostitutes, instead it says Operation Shaw is about providing support.

Detective chief inspector Stuart Houston, head of Police Scotland's Human Trafficking Unit, said: "Police Scotland is committed to improving the safety and wellbeing of people, localities and communities. It is recognised that many males and females involved in prostitution are there as a result of force or a perception of limited alternatives. It is also acknowledged that other persons may have freely chosen to be involved in prostitution.

"Shaw (support, health and wellbeing) visits were introduced by Police Scotland and our partners to improve our multi-agency response to off street prostitution.

“Visits are victim centred as opposed to enforcement being a priority. The methodology applied has been developed through collaboration between Police Scotland and key partner agencies.

"Shaw visits are undertaken by Police Scotland and the most appropriate partner within divisions at addresses where persons involved in prostitution are believed to be operating from.

“These visits allow Police Scotland and our partners to ensure the safety and wellbeing of persons involved in prostitution; provide details of support services available and provide advice and guidance to those wishing to exit prostitution."

Encompass Network comment: is Scot Pep's stance counter productive?

The Encompass Network is comprised of front line services across Scotland who work directly with those involved in the sex industry.

Encompass fully supports anyone involved in prostitution in whatever setting having access to support and information on their rights.

We also support efforts to build relationships between those involved in selling sex, support organisations and statutory organisations such as the Health service and Police Scotland.

Scot PEP has produced a Know Your Rights Card for people involved in selling sex and whilst we welcome the idea in principle - we are concerned however that the tone of these leaflets may deter women from seeking support and reporting crimes for fear of prosecution.

We have been informed by Police Scotland that NO women have been prosecuted as a result of any Shaw visit and have seen no evidence of Scot Pep’s claim. We would be keen to see the concrete evidence for this assertion.

The Encompass services have linked with and supported women, including migrant women, who have been involved in both on street and off street based prostitution.

Many of these women have experienced assault, abuse, attacks, violence and attempted murder.

We want to ensure that any crimes committed against them are reported and that their attackers are held accountable.

Some women have highlighted the positive response they have received from police upon reporting crimes and we want to ensure this is a consistent approach across Scotland.

Migrant women have been surprised by the police reaction – especially as some had been told by pimps, controllers and managers that they would be judged and punished.

Encompass Network members link with a variety of partner organisations in local areas and are involved in the development of many approaches.

Members have signed up to the National Ugly Mugs scheme and have both made and circulated reports of abuse and violence against those involved.

None of the Encompass Network are currently involved directly in Shaw and are keenly awaiting its evaluation report.

Sinead Daly from Vice Versa, one of the Encompass Network services, says: “We have a long and excellent record of supporting women involved in prostitution. Last year we have supported over 60 women. Our work involves safety planning, sexual health, accessing substance misuse andother support services.

“We absolutely agree that women involved in prostitution should not be criminalised - why would we when we work from the standpoint of it being a violence against women issue?

“We do work with the police and other partner agencies with a view to supporting these high riskwomen. For example, many women have been raped and / sexually assaulted or are

experiencing domestic abuse. Through this partnership working we have managed to secure a conviction of a serial Sex offender who targeted this group of

“We welcome the principles of the Know Your Rights cards, but have serious concerns about the tone and message Scotpep are relaying - that the police and support services that are part of the encompass network are not to be trusted.”