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West End Extra - by JAMIE WELHAM
Published: 21 August 2009

Prostitutes claim police operation aims to force them onto the streets

SEX workers in Soho have accused the police of waging a war of harassment and intimidation against them following a series of raids in the area.
More than 10 addresses in the famous red light district were targeted by officers from the Clubs and Vice squad on Wednesday evening last week in what the police say was part of an intelligence-gathering operation to crack down on sex trafficking and suspected pimping in “walk-up” flats.
But the maids and sex workers – none of whom were arrested and who vehemently deny allegations of control and trafficking – believe the police are “fishing” for evidence to close them down as part of a pre-Olympic crusade to clean up the West End.
Some of the women were issued with letters, seen by the West End Extra, saying police believed they were being controlled by pimps with the implication that the maids are their paymasters, as well as raising suspicions that the sex workers may have been trafficked by criminal gangs.
The West End Extra met a group of sex workers and maids in a Peter Street “walk-up” – a self-contained flat occupied by one maid and one sex worker. They said they are furious at the raids, which took place in Dean Street, Peter Street, Brewer Street and Tinsbury Court, and fear it could be the start of a purge of Soho, forcing women to risk their lives by working on the street in an area that until recently had been left to continue its role as the unofficial home for the world’s oldest profession.
The maids, who claim they only get paid in tips, thus negating the “control over prostitution for gain” offence under the Sexual Offences Act, are often former prostitutes themselves and many have worked in Soho for more than 15 years. They say they are there for the girls’ safety.
Anna, 25, from Kosovo, who has worked as a prostitute in Soho for two years, said: “Why are the police always telling us we must be trafficked? I do this because the money is good and I can support my family back home.
“OK, so I start off at £20, but I’ve had one customer pay me £1,000 for a session. I work the hours I want, and can come and go as I please. Nobody is holding a gun to my head, I don’t have bruises all over my legs and if I don’t like the look of a man I tell him to walk.
“Why can’t the police do something useful rather than coming around here and trying to scare us all? Do they want us to have to work on the street? Do they want another Ipswich? Girls die on the street. There’s no door or cameras, there’s drug dealers and a much larger chance of being controlled by a pimp.”
Under British law, prostitution itself is not illegal, but several activities surrounding it, including pimping, kerb-crawling, and operating a brothel, are outlawed. Walk-ups are not classed as brothels because there is only one sex worker in each flat, although typically they are cleverly converted with one or two identical units next door.
Police would not say if they planned to take further action. With Westminster Council leader Colin Barrow vowing to rid Soho of its “red-light image” and attract more families and businesses into the area, it could be a matter of time before they are targeted again.
With the majority of the sex workers speaking broken English, originating from a range of countries including Albania and Romania, the maids have articulated their anger. They are adamant that if they found out a girl was trafficked they would alert the police.
Ann Ravi works as a maid in the Dean Street walk-up that made headlines when the police failed to persuade the courts to close it following the dramatic intervention by the Soho parish priest.
She said: “I think they want us out, either because they want to develop the area or ahead of the Olympics, and it really felt like victimisation on Wednesday. They come round asking questions, accusing us of being pimps. We’re not pimps, we are human beings with families to feed.
“We do it because we know the industry, it’s comfortable and what else could we do? And why would I want to work with a trafficked girl? It doesn’t make sense. If I knew a girl had been trafficked I would be on to the police.
“We look out for them like family, they come and go as they choose and we survive on tips.”
A spokeswoman for the Clubs and Vice unit said: “Officers from the Met Clubs and Vice Unit carried out the intelligence gathering operation in Soho on Wednesday evening visiting all licensed and unlicensed sex establishments in the area.”

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