Open letter to the Secretary of State for Justice about the Court of Protection ruling that carers can help clients access prostitution

This is the full text of an open letter that we organised to the UK Secretary of State for Justice in response to the recent Court of Protection ruling that in certain circumstances it is legal for carers to assist their clients in arranging and paying for sex.

26 May 2021

To: The Secretary of State for Justice, the Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP

cc: Secretary of State for the Home Department, Priti Patel,
The Minister for Women and Equalities, Elizabeth Truss,
The Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Mr David Lammy,
The Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department, Nick Thomas-Symonds,
The Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, Marsha De Cordova

Dear Robert Buckland,

We are writing in connection with the recent Court of Protection ruling that in certain circumstances it is legal for carers to help their clients arrange and pay for prostitution (Case No: COP 12521181).

We were heartened that you intervened in the case and argued that allowing carers to do this would be contrary to government policy, which seeks to discourage prostitution.

While we’re delighted that the government is keen to discourage prostitution, we have not as yet seen any evidence of this in action. It is even arguable that the government has, by its policies and legislation, encouraged prostitution. There is evidence suggesting that prostitution has increased significantly since the Conservatives came to power in 2010.

The Court of Protection case hinged on the fact that the law in England and Wales enshrines men’s ‘right’ to buy women for sex. Men with disabilities must therefore be allowed to do so too, because other men are allowed to.

It is hard to see how prostitution can effectively be discouraged while this situation stands. However, there is a very simple solution: A total ban on the purchase of sex. This would mean that disabled men could no longer claim they were being discriminated against because no one else could legally buy sex either.

It makes no sense to punish women who sell sex, because the majority of them end up in prostitution through poverty, disadvantage, grooming – by our pornified culture if not by individuals – coercion, or an absence of alternatives. Escaping prostitution once embedded in it is hard, if not impossible, and the consequences of involvement in prostitution can be severe, including long-term mental health difficulties (such as PTSD and anxiety) and physical health problems (such as blood borne infectious diseases, injuries to the sexual organs and sphincters, and lower abdominal pain caused by inflammation and mechanical trauma).

We therefore call on you to introduce a Nordic Model approach to prostitution law and policy in England and Wales. As well as criminalising the purchase of sex, this would mean: repealing the law against loitering and soliciting to sell sex and expunging all criminal convictions for the same; introducing a nationwide network of high-quality services for those involved in prostitution to provide support and genuine routes out of the industry; and new or strengthened laws against pimping and any third-party profiteering, including prostitution advertising websites.

The Nordic Model approach is the only solution that balances the human rights of all, including women and girls’ human right to safety and dignity, freedom from discrimination, and to not be objectified, commodified, and prostituted.

The Court of Protection judgement has rightly been criticised for not considering the impact of the ruling on women – particularly the impact on women in mixed sex residential homes, and women who work in the care sector.

The response to Sarah Everard’s abduction and murder and recent research have opened the lid on the terrifying scale of sexual violence experienced by women in the UK. Of 22,419 women who participated in a recent study, 99.7% said they’d been repeatedly subjected to male violence, including assaults, harassment, and rape. This is a violation of women’s rights under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), including Articles 8 and 14, and under CEDAW.

It is time we stop seeing male violence against women and girls as a series of isolated and unrelated incidents and square up to the fact that it is a systemic cultural phenomenon that is implicitly, if not explicitly, condoned by the Government.

An ever-growing body of evidence has identified both porn and prostitution as underlying drivers of this reality. The proliferation of online porn, its ever-increasing violence and misogyny, and seepage into mainstream culture is having a catastrophic impact on social, sexual and cultural norms.

Those who need care because of disabilities, mental health problems or dementia, are not immune to the impact of these cultural forces. Most residential care homes are mixed sex and male residents acting out sexually inappropriate behaviour is widespread – with a serious negative impact on the female residents and care staff.

Sara, who has herself experienced prostitution, has written about working in a care home where a vulnerable female resident disclosed that a young male resident had subjected her to a serious sexual assault. Sara had previously worked with the male resident and described how he often made inappropriate comments to women. She believes his sense of entitlement and misogynistic views about women and sex had come from pornified material he’d seen on the internet. Under the care home’s policies, she was not allowed to challenge his inappropriate behaviour and views, even when he talked about them in graphic detail in front of other residents.

Alyssa, [*] another survivor of prostitution who now works in the care sector, told us that one of the men she cares for often makes passes at her, likens her to a call girl, and watches a lot of porn while care staff are present. While the organisation she works for is supportive, she is still left to deal with a situation that would be considered harassment in any other workplace.

Mary told us about an elderly male relative who had dementia and episodes of sexual aggression, in which he would walk around the care home with his flies undone and his erect penis in his hand – to the distress of the elderly and vulnerable female residents.

These three narratives provide a small window into the reality for women living in residential homes and working in the sector. Many, if not most, of the care workers dealing with this reality are women on zero-hour contracts and the minimum wage. To get enough hours to be able to pay their rent and living expenses, they usually have to be willing to deal with anything and everything. They are often wary of complaining because they lack confidence that the management would support them and fear there would be reprisals, including termination or the loss of hours.

The reality of their position is that they have extremely little room to manoeuvre or to make a choice. This is a result of public policies sanctioned by the government. The lack of options faced by female care workers mirror the lack of options and alternatives faced by the majority of women involved in prostitution.

How are female care workers who struggle with low pay and insecure work expected to feel when they become aware that the state is prepared to pay perhaps as much as eight times more per hour so that these same male clients can have sexual access to another woman? What does that say about how society values her exhausting and important care work? As Sara says, “You could not find a better promotional message for prostitution itself, or something more likely to exacerbate recruitment problems in the care sector.”

It is a misconception that allowing men who rely on care to access prostituted women would somehow help them to understand consent, to conform to acceptable standards of behaviour, and to develop mutually satisfying relationships. All the evidence suggests that the reverse is true and that it will increase their sense of entitlement and their view of women as a separate servant class who are not entitled to the same respect and bodily autonomy as men. Such sanctioning of prostitution will therefore inevitably lead to more sexual harassment and assaults for female care workers and residents.

To the already harrowing reality of dealing with the inappropriate behaviour of male clients, this Court of Protection judgement adds the likelihood of care workers having to facilitate prostitution for male clients, including the possibility of being required to personally attend such encounters. Because of the precariousness of their position, many female care workers are likely to feel unable to object even if they find this abhorrent or traumatising.

Sexual harassment of female residents and staff is a microcosm of the situation in the wider community, where men violating women and girls’ safety, dignity and sexual autonomy is endemic. This is a national emergency – both of women’s human rights and of public health – and the government has a responsibility to take urgent serious and holistic action to deal with it.

We draw your attention to the excellent report, ‘The Limits of Consent,’ by the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission. This argued that prostitution should be viewed as the purchase of consent, which means that when the state sanctions the purchase of sex, it confuses and undermines public health messages about respectful sexual relations:

“The Commission finds it difficult to reconcile the common socio-legal understanding of sex as an act of mutual intimacy requiring free consent with the system of prostitution which provides for its purchase. The entire system of prostitution is built upon the exchange of money for sexual consent. Without the money, there would be no consent. The Commission believes that it is therefore accurate to characterise our system as allowing for the purchase of sexual consent, and believes that this undermines the principle of sexual consent itself. Urgent legislative steps should be taken to uphold the high value society places upon consent, and this question warrants urgent parliamentary attention.”

The Court of Protection judgement lends legitimacy to the sex industry. It tells men that buying sexual access to another human being is acceptable and it tells women that they are second class, that their needs and dignity are of no consequence, and that what is important is that men get their own way. This will inevitably lead to even more male violence against the women and girls in this country.

We urge you to follow through on your stated intention to discourage prostitution and to appeal the judgement – and more importantly to take immediate steps to implement the Nordic Model in England and Wales. Dame Diana Johnson has already tabled a private members bill to this effect. We urge the Government to adopt it and to do everything in its power to ensure its success.

[*] Some names have been changed.

Yours sincerely

UK organisations

  1. Nordic Model Now!
  2. Aurora New Dawn
  3. Campaign Against Sex Robots (CASR)
  4. CARE
  6. CitizenGO UK
  7. Cambridge Radical Feminist Network
  8. End the War on Women Collective
  9. FiLiA
  10. For Women Scotland
  11. Keep Prisons Single Sex
  12. Men At Work C.I.C.
  13. National Board of Catholic Women
  14. Not Buying It
  15. Not For Sale in Scotland
  16. Older Feminist Network
  17. RadFem Collective
  18. Resist Porn Culture
  19. Rooms of our Own
  20. Scary Little Girls CIC
  21. Scottish Women Against Pornography
  22. Scottish Women’s Equality Party
  23. Swansea Feminist Network
  24. The Judith Trust
  25. Transgender Trend
  26. Vera Media
  27. Woman’s Equality Party Sex-Based Rights Caucus
  28. Women`s Human Rights Campaign, Team Portugal
  29. Women’s Human Rights Campaign (WHRC)
  30. www.

International organisations

  1. BOSHU
  2. Center for Women’s rights ‘Sallim’
  4. Feministische Partei DIE FRAUEN, Kreismitfrauenverband Frankfurt/ Germany
  6. Gyeongnam Women’s Association, Women’s Human Rights Center (Korea)
  7. Human Rights Center ‘Gang Gang Soolle’ (Korea)
  8. Jeju Association for Women’s Rights (Korea)
  10. Libres MarianneS
  11. Malta Women’s Lobby
  12. Mokpo women’s human rights center (Korea)
  13. National Solidarity against Sexual Exploitation on Women in Korea
  14. No Corpo Certo (“In the right body”)
  15. Nova Scotians for the Prevention of Prostitution and Human Trafficking
  16. Radicailín
  17. Resistenza Femminista
  18. SISTERS – für den Ausstieg aus der Prostitution! e.V.
  19. Suwon Women’s Human Rights DoDum
  20. The Avery Center
  21. The Network of women with prostitution experience, Moongchi (Korea)
  22. Trauma and Prostitution
  23. Vancouver Anti-Porn Society
  24. 비혼공동체With

And 703 individuals. Download a PDF copy of the letter to see the full list of names and their comments.

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