Street Harassment and Prostitution: Making the Connections


Nearly every time I go out now, no matter what time of day, I get men harassing me and trying to buy me – even though I’m with my five-year old and clearly pregnant.” – Leyton resident

13245398_1115402505149883_7835869374565914807_nNordic Model Now! wrote a letter to London (UK) mayor, Sadiq Khan, after women in the Leyton area told us about the alarming levels of street harassment in their area and how this had coincided with a proliferation of advertising of prostitution in the area. There are stickers advertising brothels on more or less every lamp post.

On Wednesday 29 June 2016, four members of Nordic Model Now! went to City Hall to deliver the letter.

We met with senior officials from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC). They told us that MOPAC commissions and funds rape crisis services throughout London but prostitution support and exit services are funded and commissioned by the local boroughs.

Similarly, although MOPAC has a London-wide policy of considering prostitution to be a form of male violence against women and girls (VAWG), each borough has the freedom to decide how to police prostitution on the ground. As a result there is wide variation between how prostitution is policed in different boroughs. Hounslow and Lambeth take a VAWG approach, targeting the punters through kerb crawling laws and referring the women to services. Some other boroughs consider prostitution a nuisance and target the women.

The officials believe Waltham Forest Police to be sympathetic to a VAWG prostitution strategy and they suggested that we contact them and the Waltham Forest Community Safety Partnership.

Leyton-actionThe officials seemed visibly shocked when we told them that when we went to Leyton to collect signatures for the letter, women we met in the street told us that when they take a minicab, the driver frequently harasses them for sex in lieu of payment.

The officials emphasised that women need to report each incident of harassment to the police, that each incident is a crime. If women don’t report the incidents, the extent of the problem is not recognised and therefore resources are not allocated to the problem.

The text of the letter follows.

Dear Sadiq Khan

We are writing to draw your attention to the appalling situation in areas of the borough of Waltham Forest, where the harassment of young women has reached alarming proportions and many report that they are regularly getting propositioned, even on busy streets in broad daylight, by men who want to buy them for sex. The harassment has got significantly worse recently – coinciding with a proliferation of prostitution and its advertising in the area. This suggests that a normalisation of prostitution is taking place and this has strengthened men’s view of women and girls as objects of consumption and men’s sense of entitlement to harass and buy them.

Nearly every lamp post and traffic light post is plastered with stickers advertising prostitution. Although local council workers periodically remove the stickers, those responsible (almost certainly pimps and traffickers) clearly feel they have impunity because within a day or two they are back. Similarly those who run the brothels that are so clearly advertised must feel they have impunity.

We support the Nordic Model approach to prostitution. This involves the complete decriminalisation of all prostituted persons and the provision of specialist support and services to help them build a new life outside prostitution, and the criminalisation of pimps, procurers and punters (sex buyers), who we believe should feel the full weight of the law.

We are heartened by your clear support and concern for women’s and girls’ equality and welcomed your pre-election response to the End Violence Against Women Coalition setting out your commitment to making London safer for women and girls, delivering on the existing Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) strategy on prostitution, and providing women fleeing abuse with safe and secure housing.

We draw your particular attention to the following extract from page 26 of the 2013-2017 MOPAC strategy on violence against women and girls (see the document for the references).

“Studies show that between 32 per cent 57 and 75 per cent 58 of women involved in prostitution entered before the age of 18 and that 70 per cent of women involved in prostitution have spent time in care.59 Up to 72 per cent of women involved in prostitution in the UK have experienced some form of childhood violence including emotional, physical, sexual and verbal.60 79 per cent suffer from physical or mental health problems 61 and 68 per cent meet the criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.62 83 per cent have current or former problematic drug or alcohol use.63

We now call on you to make good on your pre-election promises. In particular we call on you to:

  1. Ensure that all London police officers and police support workers are trained to understand prostitution as a form of violence against women and girls – in line with the MOPAC VAWG strategy.
  2. Provide funding for pan-London specialist holistic non-judgemental support and exiting services, which should include: housing, benefit, employment, debt and legal advice; addiction services; emotional and psychological support; childcare; training and education.
  3. Set up and fund a London-wide helpline for people who are prostituted/trafficked which can direct them to the above services.
  4. Ensure that fully trained specialist female staff accompany the police on all brothel raids to interview the women and refer them on to specialist support and exiting services.
  5. Ensure that sufficient safe and secure housing is made available to those who are escaping the abuse of prostitution and trafficking.
  6. Ensure that all London job creation initiatives include equal opportunities for women.
  7. Prioritise the policing of traffickers, pimps, brothel owners, procurers and punters across the whole of London.
  8. Use the full extent of the existing law to prosecute the same, including using Section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009/Section 53A of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to prosecute punters. A freedom of information request has shown that in the first year of operation there were 46 prosecutions and 43 convictions under this law. This shows that it can be used effectively.
  9. Take a zero tolerance approach to police officers who are found to be using prostituted women and girls.
  10. Lobby the government for the UK legislation to be updated to bring it in line with the Nordic Model approach. We refer you to the Shifting The Burden report from the All-Party Parliamentary Committee on Prostitution and the independently commissioned report How to implement the Sex Buyer Law in the UK.
  11. Encourage the London boroughs to have a zero tolerance approach to the advertising of prostitution in public places.
  12. Initiate a London-wide public information campaign to make it clear to men that buying women and girls for sex is unacceptable, as is street harassment and other forms of male violence against women and girls.

Prostitution is intrinsically violating. Rape, robbery, physical assault and sexual violence are common to it and it has a detrimental impact on the psychological well-being of those in it. If we don’t take action across London as outlined above, women and girls will continue to be abused, exploited and at considerable risk of harm and the harassment of young women on our streets is likely to rise. It is our view that prostitution can never be made safe and that it feeds the attitudes that lead to male violence against women and children generally.

There are areas of the UK that have successfully implemented Nordic Model type strategies. For example the Ipswich Street Prostitution Strategy was implemented after the murders of five young women in the winter of 2006. Such strategies need a coordinated approach between the police and other agencies in order to target legal sanctions on those who abuse and exploit women, and to prevent children and young people entering the harmful and dangerous world of prostitution.

Independent evaluation[i] of the Ipswich strategy has shown that a multi-agency approach can work and be cost effective. In Ipswich it was shown that for every pound spent there was a two pound saving to the public purse.

Please do not hesitate to let us know if you need any further information.

We look forward to your response and request a meeting at your earliest convenience to hear your detailed plans.

Yours sincerely

Nordic Model Now!

And 18 other groups and organisations, and 154 individuals.



[i] Evaluation Research Report for Ipswich/ Suffolk Prostitution Strategy 2007-2012: EVISSTA 2, University of East Anglia, 2012

2 thoughts on “Street Harassment and Prostitution: Making the Connections

  1. thank you.
    i think every female person from a young age has felt the fear and humiliation of having the words “how much?” said to her in public places from a man.

  2. And he would never ask another man on the street that question. So it perfectly illustrate, that prostitution devalues women to a purchase object. And being reduced to a object is everything else than liberation and equality. It is dehumanization.

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