Police and courts

Talking about reporting and contacts for police

It may seem really scary to report a crime when you are working in the sex industry. You may be concerned about the police response because of your job, about the impact of possibly being ‘outed’ as a sex worker, if you are a migrant worker and concerned about your immigration status or because you may have a warrant. All of these things along with the other fears you may have about injuries, possible repercussions from perpetrators, pregnancy & STIs if it was sexual violence can make it overwhelming. The first thing to remember when thinking about this decision is that police officers take an oath to treat all people equally. The Oath taken by a police officer states that they:

“do solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that I will well and truly serve the Queen in the office of constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all people; and that I will, to the best of my power, cause the peace to be kept and preserved and prevent all offences against people and property; and that while I continue to hold the said office I will to the best of my skill and knowledge discharge all the duties thereof faithfully according to law” Police Reform Act 2002

So no matter what your occupation is, they are bound to treat you with equal respect and dignity. You can find your local police force by clicking here. If the offender is a police officer, you can contact us  directly for advice and we will find you a trusted officer who can help you.  If you have a warrant, don’t let that put you off reporting. We can point you to projects who will advocate for you.

What happens if you report a crime to the police?

When you report a crime, what usually happens is that an officer will come out and take what is called a ‘first account’. This is a very brief outline of what has happened to you, where it happened, who did it and when it happened. Then if it is a rape or sexual assault, you will be allocated a specially trained officer who will take you to a SARC or other facility (see section on rape and sexual assault below). If it is not related to sexual violence, an officer from-for example the CID will deal with assaults, the robbery squad with robberies etc. They will take a statement from you to record in greater detail the information given in the first account. This is not usually done on the same day as a little bit of time helps our brains to process the information better. The police cannot begin an investigation without a ‘complaint’ in the form of a statement or first account. Contrary to what most people believe, the police do not make the decision on whether to progress a case- that decision is made by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Basically, they have to decide if the potential test meets two criteria:

  1. Is there is enough evidence to provide a realistic chance of conviction?
  2. Is it in the public interest to bring the case to court?

If the CPS decide that both of these criteria are satisfied, the case will then proceed to court.

What happens if my case doesn't proceed?

In a case where The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has decided that no further action (NFA) will be taken at the time in respect of an offence or offences, this means that, after consideration of the evidence and other information that is currently available, a prosecutor has made the decision that there is insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction.

A realistic prospect of conviction means that an objective, impartial and reasonable jury or bench of magistrates, acting in accordance with the law, is more likely than not to convict the defendant of the charge alleged. It does not mean that you weren't believed, it means that at the time the decision was made, there was not enough evidence to proceed.

If you've been raped or sexual assault?

The most important thing to remember is that it is not your fault. No matter what job you do, nobody deserves to be raped. Rape and sexual assault is against the law, many women and men are unaware of their legal rights and what is/is not a sexual offence. For legal definitions of rape and other sexual offences see below. It may seem overwhelming when you have been the victim of a crime and have the additional barriers of working in the sex industry to consider when deciding whether or not to contact the police and report. It may help to know that there are specialist workers available to help you through this, regardless of whether you want to contact the police or not. These workers are called ISVAs or Independent Sexual Violence Advisors and are located in many different settings such as Rape Crisis Projects, The Survivors Trust and other statutory and non-statutory settings. For a list of ISVA services click here. They can offer impartial advice (hence the Independent), help you report to the police (if you choose to do so), help you access a SARC (click here for more information on SARCs) or other forensic medical facility and guide you to specialist sexual violence services and health care. Some ISVAs will also work with you around other issues such as housing, benefits etc. All police forces throughout the UK (including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) have specially trained officers who deal with rape and sexual assault. They may be called different things in different areas-for example in London they are called SOITs, in Liverpool they are called SOLOs but they are all used to dealing with delicate issues and have particular empathy with victims. They will generally stay with you from the first report to court (if you go to court).

Preserving evidence

If you have decided to report to the police, or are still undecided, it’s really important to try and preserve any potential forensic evidence. In an ideal world, you should avoid doing the following as they can have an effect on the amount and quality of evidence that may be recoverable:

  • Going to the toilet
  • Eating
  • Drinking
  • Smoking
  • Having a bath, shower or washing
  • Changing your clothes
  • Take any medication/drugs that are not essential
  • Removing your jewellery
  • Cleaning your teeth

We understand that the above requirements can be distressing for you as we understand the instinct to wash and change and have a cup of tea, ciggie etc. If you have already done any of the above, you can still be examined. Any clothes that you take off should be put into a clean bag. If you must wash, it’s advisable to wipe the area with a dry tissue prior to washing and keep the tissue in a sealed bag. A forensic examination can be useful up to 72 hours after an assault; however, it should ideally be carried out as soon as possible.

Courts

If you are going to court and are in an area with a project, they will support you at trial. If there is an ISVA in your area or a Specialist ISVA in your area, they will support you through the whole process from report to court and beyond. If you are not in contact with a project, the court will provide you with somebody from Witness Services to look after you. It is usual either way to have a ‘pre-trial visit’ where the project worker, ISVA or witness service’s will ask you to come to court some time before the trial begins to show you around, explain the court process and who everyone is and their role to help you feel more comfortable.

Special measures

Special measures are arrangements which can be made for a witness to enable them to give the ‘best evidence’ they can. These include using screens, video link, giving evidence in private, videotaped evidence in chief, videotaped cross-examination. Advocates’ for clients can make the case to the CPS that sex workers are vulnerable/intimidated witnesses as defined under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. This applies to all offences, and the test for qualification is that the ‘quality of evidence will be diminished by fear or distress’. Special Measures are granted automatically if it is a rape or sexual offence.

List of crimes & definitions

Sometimes, we can be unsure what is and what isn't a crime so we have developed this page to try and identify some of the most common crimes against sex workers to give you an understanding of what is and is not legal in British Law.

Rape - rape is the non-consensual (i.e. without consent, you said no to) penetration of the vagina, anus (bum) or mouth with a penis. The maximum penalty in British Law for Rape is life imprisonment. In British Law, Section 74 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 defines consent as;

  • “if he agrees by choice and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice” (‘He’ refers to victim of any gender)
  • Sexual assault by penetration -all other forms of sexual penetration of the anus and vagina with an object that is not a penis (i.e. a bottle, a strap on). In British Law it is equally as serious as rape and carries the same maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
  • Sexual assault-any other non-penetrative sexual touching without the consent of another (i.e. the person being touched)

These are all covered by the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Other offences relating to crimes against sex workers could be:

  • Assault-Section 39 (Criminal Justice Act 1988) Common Assault where a person intentionally or recklessly causes another to apprehend the immediate infliction of unlawful force (i.e. hits or beats you)
  • Assault-Section 47 (Criminal Justice Act 1988) Assault occasioning actual bodily harm (ABH), the only differences between a section 39 and a section 47 is the degree of injury caused to the victim

The CPS may decide to use offences covered by the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 as this contains a caveat about vulnerability. An example of a crime under this law is a Section 18 (or Section 20) Assault or ‘Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH). The difference between a section 18 and a section 20 are that for a section 18 charge-you have to prove intent.

A new piece of legislation (law) came into force in April 2010 called the Policing and Crime Act 2009. This law contains several sections relating to crimes against sex workers notably:

Section 14-Paying for sexual services of a prostitute subjected to force etc: England and Wales (section 15 in Northern Ireland). So if you are being forced to sell sex against your will, the person forcing you is committing an offence under Section 52 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003-Causing or inciting prostitution for gain.