January 17, 2006

Britain rejects European-style prostitution zones

By Kate Holton

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain has rejected plans to set up
so-called "tolerance zones" for prostitution, saying a
worldwide study had shown there was no evidence they offered
greater protection for women.

Instead, the government announced plans on Tuesday to relax
laws on brothels so that prostitutes could work together in the
same premises.

But an international campaigning group for prostitutes said
the new laws did not go far enough to prevent sex workers
suffering rape and violence.

The government had been considering allowing special zones
in what would have been the biggest shake-up of British
prostitution laws for 50 years.

"We rejected that option because if you look at the
international examples where there are managed zones (of
prostitution) it seems not to reduce criminality," Home Office
minister Fiona MacTaggart told reporters on Tuesday.

"It seems not to reduce the exploitation of women by
usually criminally associated and dangerous men."

The British-based campaigning group International
Collective of Prostitutes (ICP) had urged the government to
decriminalize the world's oldest profession and a former Home
Secretary, David Blunkett, published plans in 2004 to change
the law.

Instead, the Home Office said on Tuesday it would work to
protect women in the sex industry and help them find
alternative work.

It will also target the men who traffic women from abroad
into the British sex industry.

The Home Office said the London market was "saturated" with
migrants working in brothels.

"Prostitution blights communities and the lives of those
who participate," MacTaggart said. "Women involved in
prostitution often have very limited choices in life. They come
from difficult backgrounds, might have drug problems or nowhere
safe to live."

Germany and the Netherlands have legalized some brothels
and set up zones where prostitutes can work. Prostitution is
not illegal in Italy or France.

Around 80,000 women in Britain work as prostitutes, with
more than half of those under 25, according to Home Office

Under the new rules, two prostitutes will be allowed to
work together from the same premises and with a receptionist to
increase their security.

Previous laws had only allowed one prostitute to work from
an apartment.

Citing the example of New Zealand, which decriminalized
prostitution in 2003, the ICP had argued a similar policy in
Britain would destigmatise sex work and make prostitutes safer
by keeping them off the street.

"In New Zealand women are now much more able to report
violence," IPC spokeswoman Niki Adams told Reuters.

"The numbers of reports of rape and violence have increased
from prostitute women because previously they were deterred by
the thought they might face prosecution themselves.

"Also a lot of women have been able to get off the streets
and work in premises. It is much safer to work inside rather
than out."