Press release from the English Collective of Prostitutes
On Thursday 29 April, in Luton Crown Court, Claire Finch was found NOT GUILTY of a criminal charge of keeping a brothel. The jury, in line with public opinion, refused to criminalise Ms Finch for working together with friends from her own home for safety. Ms Finch, her friends and colleagues, her legal team and the English Collective of Prostitutes which co-ordinated the case, celebrated this victory for rights and safety.
This case is a precedent – it forges a way for sex workers to work together from premises. Thousands of women who want to protect their safety now have the possibility of a legal defence against criminal charges. Sex workers are 10 times more likely to be attacked on the street than indoors, and it is much safer to work with someone else than to work alone. Yet the law expressly forbids this – two or more women working together are classified as a brothel. Following the decision of the court, all pending prosecutions of women working together without force or coercion must now be dropped. Parliament must now look to decriminalise as New Zealand did successfully nearly seven years ago, improving women’s safety without increasing prostitution.
The prosecution barrister, Samantha Cohen, claimed that under the law Ms Finch’s home was a brothel because more than one woman was offering sexual services. She implied that Ms Finch was greedy and lazy, and suggested that she could instead have worked as a “secretary, beautician, shop assistant or chef”. She seemed oblivious to the recession that is throwing thousands of people out of work, and of the irony of a woman on a comfortable professional wage giving glib career advice to a mother-of-two struggling to pay her mortgage. Her suggestions of other security measures, such as employing a receptionist, showed her ignorance given that a number women in central London who work in exactly that way are facing threats of prosecution.
The court was told that there had been nearly 20,000 sexual and other violent attacks reported against women in Bedfordshire during the past five years. 18 sex workers had reported being attacked – a figure likely to be very conservative as most women do not report for fear of being prosecuted instead of their attackers. Summing up, Anna Morris, the defence barrister told the jury that the brothel-keeping laws under which Ms Finch was being prosecuted, were introduced in 1956 when it was still unlawful for men to have sex with each other and when rape in marriage was not legally recognised as a crime. She said that nowadays, “. . . parliament is struggling to keep up with modern morality . . . women who chose to sell sexual services want to be able to do so safely. . . In reality, it was a collective of mature women, sharing work and finances, working in a way that was necessary to protect themselves, not working alone or on the streets or in a way that may expose them to serious violence.” In directing the jury, Judge Mensah outlined that if they found Ms Finch was the keeper of a brothel they could consider the defence of duress of circumstances: that she was compelled to work with other women for fear of assault if she worked alone.