UK Government Is Failing Sex Workers

The UK government is failing sex workers by continuing to promote discriminatory laws and practices, argue experts in this week’s BMJ. Professor Michael Goodyear and Dr Linda Cusick call on the prime minister to protect women by decriminalising all aspects of sex work now.

Sex workers around the world continue to be murdered, write Professor Goodyear of Dalhousie University, Canada and Dr Cusick of the University of Paisley, Scotland. The five young women killed in Suffolk last month raised questions about our collective duty to protect such women and how best to achieve it.

Governments and health and social services have a duty of care without discrimination, yet they argue that UK government policies discriminate against the most disadvantaged.

Criminalisation of prostitution limits access to health and social care and contravenes United Nations’ guidelines on human rights. “Only by moving prostitution out of the criminal justice system and focusing on public health and social care can we provide optimum support and help break the cycle of violence,” they say.

The status quo in the UK is unacceptable moral cowardice, they add. The prime minister has opposed reform and stalled demands for the protection of women; he must show leadership and restore human rights by decriminalising all aspects of sex work now.

They believe that the deaths of Gemma Adams, Tania Nicol, Anneli Alderton, Paula Clennell, and Annette Nicholls were almost inevitable. “They deserved better, but we failed them. We will honour them best by now doing the right thing.”