delve a little deeper....
When I had a job in the civvy world part of my responsibility as a manager was for the health and safety of my staff and that included making provisions for lone workers.
I had to complete risk assessments to identify who was working alone, when, was it necessary, what additional risks working alone would have on them and devise systems could be put in place to increase their security and safety. Some of these things included regular checks in staff, panic alarms as well as training for staff on dealing with large quantities of cash and how to respond to an attempted robbery.
Lone working is something that is taken seriously in the work place. Whilst working alone doesn't breach any laws employers have both a moral and legal responsibility to ensure their employees are safe. Legally these responsibilities fall under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Indeed employers who have more than five staff must complete risk assessments. Any large organisation will have a lone working policy and a quick google will link you to pages and pages of both government and private industries advising and advertising about working alone.
The Health and safety Executive (HSE) are a non departmental government body; a national independent watchdog for work-related health, safety and illness. They have detailed information regarding lone workers and how employers and self employed people can keep themselves safe.
The HSE specifically tells employers to assess the risk of violence or assault as do the TUC in their guidelines for lone working
However, when you work in sex work you do not have the protection that every other worker in the country has. Because we are in an underground (or indeed unregulated) industry it seems perfectly OK that there are laws in place that force people (mainly women) to work alone or else be breaking the law.
In this country it is illegal for two sex workers to work in the same place. It is illegal to profit from someone elses prostitution so being a maid, receptionist, security or driver for a sex worker is illegal.
The only way for a sex worker to be legal is if she works alone or if she is works for an agency or parlour. However, those who run these places or indeed those who act as drivers, maids or security are classed as criminals (pimps) in the eyes of the law. So the people keeping sex workers safe and supporting them are criminalised.
Last week a document from Amnesty International was leaked. They recognise that those supporting or working with sex workers are criminalised:
The blanket criminalization of the clients of sex work, or of support functions such as body guards and receptionists, has also proven to drive those engaged in sex work underground, increasing the risk of violence and abuse. Where aspects of sex work remain criminal, those engaging in sex work are less inclined to seek both routine care and urgent protection. Moreover, the criminalization of “living off the proceeds of
prostitution,” while perhaps intended to cover those who exploit sex workers, has been shown to apply to both help-functions (guards, receptionists, landlords), as well as room mates, family, and even children.
There is much made of the 'pimp lobby' and how those who are not sex workers themselves who work with sex workers are all about the money. Pimp is a negative word and the connotations are that the pimp forces someone to engage in sex work and profits from this. True in some cases, but if I let out my flat to a couple of women to work in and charged them rent I would technically be a pimp.
The point is the law leads sex workers down the road of working alone so as not to criminalise themselves or anyone who works with them. Most sex workers who work alone have some form of security and processes in place to keep themselves safe(obviously am not going to list details of these here!) but often instinct plays a big part in what we do. I refuse men trying to book me if I think they sound a bit iffy, I may be turning down perfectly nice men and of course 'gut feeling' is not always reliable.
Organisations such as Ugly Mugs and the website SAAFE exist to warm women of dodgy or dangerous clients and many women use other local internet sites, social media and punting websites as well passing on information to women they know personally or in their area.
However, the fact remains, Sex workers are made vulnerable because of bad laws, stigma and an attitude that we matter less than non sex workers. Those who commit murders seek out Sex workers because we are vulnerable, people are less likely to notice us missing or just that they hate what we do. Peter Sutcliffe (The Yorkshire ripper) who was convicted of murdering 13 women and attempting to murder seven others said:
"the women I killed were filth — bastard prostitutes who were littering the streets. I was just cleaning up the place a bit."
Most of the women were prostitutes and it is reported that when he started murdering non sex workers the public were more shocked and more outraged.
In a courtroom in Seattle in 2003, Gary Ridgway, the so-called Green River Killer, who admitted to killing 48 women, seemed, when a prosecutor read his statement of guilt, to be speaking for all serial killers throughout the decades and centuries who have victimized prostitutes.
“I also picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed,” Mr. Ridgway said in his statement. “I knew they would not be reported missing right away and might never be reported missing. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.”
Yet still the laws remain and many people campaign to further criminalise prostitution. The response to Amnesty's planned policy change has been met with uproar by the anti brigade despite the very logical reasoning.
Whatever happens with regards to Amnesty or the current processes around the world with regards to Sex work laws it will come too late for many women, including Maria Duque-Tunjano who was discovered dead at her working flat in Earls Court, London.
Who knows if the law had been different whether she would have chosen to work in another way.
It's a very sad and frightening time for all sex workers, but these things will make us more determined.