“Reclaim the Night” By Laura Lee

On Saturday 29th November, I will be attending and speaking at Reclaim the Night in Belfast city centre. This will be a sex worker friendly environment, and although the press will be in attendance, masks are available and there will be several of us available to speak to them.

Prostitute at car door

Now more than ever, Reclaim the Night is an important statement for sex workers to make. The recent decision of the Northern Irish Assembly to put sex workers in further danger is insane. We are STILL not permitted to work together for safety. Further, they are “decriminalising” street sex work and given that we are in a recession and approaching Christmas, I predict an increase in the number of street sex workers, in Belfast and other major cities.

Street sex work is dangerous in itself, we know that because the implementation of the Merseyside model in Liverpool has proven what positive policing can do. There they treat sex workers as victims of hate crime, as with any other minority group. The police work with the women, not against them and it has led to a much better relationship between the two groups. More importantly, it sends out a message that the women are not vulnerable victims and are not alone. The result ? The increase in convictions against the perpetrators of crime has shot up by over 80%.


Disaster for Scotland

Conversely in Edinburgh, we know that when they took away the tolerance zone, assaults on street sex workers rocketed by 95%. Now, since the closure of some of the saunas and the migration of some of those sex workers back out onto the streets, I’ve noticed a sharp spike in the number of reports coming from Ugly Mugs re the Edinburgh area. Is that a coincidence ? I don’t think so.

For sex workers, Reclaim the Night is about being able to work without fear of threats, stalking, assault or rape. Nearly a decade ago, Gary Ridgway was unmasked as the Green River Killer, the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history. He preyed on runaways and sex workers particularly, and although initial figures suggested 49 victims, it’s now thought to stand at 80. Asked why he chose sex workers in particular, he said it was because no-one would miss them. Tell that to their parents and siblings. Tell that to their children.

I call on the PSNI to implement a model similar to that in Liverpool. Sex workers in dire need of money for Christmas and to feed their children need to know that they can work in safety. That’s a basic human right.

Laura Lee

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