Sex Worker

Campaigners in east London are calling on police to stop targeting street prostitutes in a clean-up of streets before the Olympics.

Members of the Tower Hamlets Residents Solidarity Group are being supported by the End Violence Against Women Coalition in its campaign to convince the police to change its target in its battle against the sex trade.

A petition of 200 signatures will be presented by members of the campaign at a meeting with council representatives.

It is in response to the police tactic of targeting streetwalkers to sanitise the streets before the Olympic Games.

Sarah Green, spokesperson for the coalition, told IBTimes UK: "We have been campaigning hard in the build-up to the Olympics and we hoped that this would mean London borough authorities would have a plan. Sadly, we have been disappointed by these last-minute crackdowns that are aimed at the wrong targets.

"Prostitution is a form of abuse against women, many of whom have a history of abuse and are some of the most vulnerable people in our community. When they are arrested or fined they can very easily be put into a cycle of criminalisation as they have to do more work on the streets to make up for what they have lost."

The police effort follows pressure from local councillors keen to see the area's streets cleaned up and a crackdown on kerb crawling.

Green added: "The excuse for this sort of action is that it is for the good of the community. Of course prostitution and kerb crawling is not something that communities want to see, but these campaigners have really gone into the community, spoken to prostututes in the area and know what the area wants."

Rather than targeting the women, who often feel trapped in a life of prostitution, the campaigners are urging action against the pimps and gangs that control the sex trade.

The petition states: "Since the beginning of 2012, the police in Tower Hamlets have been targeting women involved in street-based prostitution with arrests, displacement and threats of Asbos in an effort to 'clean up' the streets for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

"Many of the women have had early experiences of abuse and violence; they have been groomed or forced into prostitution. For the vast majority, prostitution is a choice of 'no choice'.

"In addition, they experience high levels of sexual and physical violence on the streets and in their intimate relationships. They are faced with homelessness, drug addiction and poverty."

Toynbee Hall's Safe Exit, a charity that works on street prostitution, raised concerns in April over the number of arrests taking place, which could make sex workers more vulnerable to crime.

The group found that 48 arrests had been made in Tower Hamlets since January, a significant leap from the 44 arrests made in the whole of 2011.

The crackdown also saw 80 brothels in the neighbouring borough of Newham shut down in 18 months.

The Metropolitan Police said: "Police in Tower Hamlets, the local authority and the charity scheme Safe Exit have worked together over the last 12 months, unprompted by the games, to respond to specific issues identified by the local community that are linked to street prostitution and associated anti-social behaviour."

Tower Hamlets council told the BBC: "Where they [sex workers] aren't willing to work with us, we are taking enforcement action against them.

"For example, in recent months we have successfully applied for a number of anti-social behaviour orders against prostitutes working in Bethnal Green, where residents had raised prostitution as a concern."