A THOUSAND sex workers and their supporters marched through Soho in London on strike – protesting against unfair and unsafe working conditions.
Huge crowds chanted “sex work is work” and “no bad whores, just bad laws” through the streets on Friday evening, undeterred by the rain.
Traffic came to a standstill, with many drivers forced to turn back as the crowd marched defiantly with banners.
Sex workers are campaigning for the total decriminalisation of the industry, which they say would make prostitutes safer and allow them access to labour laws.
Although prostitution is legal in the UK, other related activities such as soliciting in a public place, owning or managing a brothel, pimping and pandering are criminalised.
Selling sex in private in not illegal, nor is working as a prostitute in a brothel as long as the worker is not involved in management.
However, because of the criminalised nature of the industry, prostitutes working together from the same flat or house for safety live in “constant fear” of being arrested for brothel-keeping.
The protest, which took place on International Women’s Day, was about including “all women” in the feminist movement, with many shouting “drunk, alone, I want to get home”.
A spokeswoman for the English Collective of Prostitutes, a group that provides support for sex workers and was present at the march, said the strike was to “protest criminalisation, police abuse and the poverty that is pushing more women, particularly mothers, into sex work to survive”.
“We need to live in a society that protects all women”
She said: “Because of the stigma and discrimination associated with sex work we can’t speak publicly about our fight against police raids and closures which have put our lives and livelihoods at risk.”
Three supporters of sex workers’ rights, who did not wish to be named, said they were “fighting for vulnerable women” who are “mistreated by police and are powerless to do anything about it”.
One said: “Sex workers need protection, not locking up.
“They are vulnerable people already and giving them a criminal record makes them even more vulnerable.
“We are here for the decriminalisation of sex workers – sex work is real work.
“We are here for the carers in our society that do not have enough money to survive – the world would stop working without them.”
Another said: “We need to live in a society that protects all women, all women should be treated equally, as human beings, and protected by the law.
“These are mothers, these are daughters, they deserve to work in a safe environment.”
The strike began at Leicester Square with sex workers giving passionate speeches about the dangers they face.
The huge group then marched through Soho, holding placards reading “disappointing my dad, not yours” and “some of my best friends are sex workers so stop putting them in danger”.
The march ended at Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain by Piccadilly Circus tube station where one woman spoke passionately through a microphone.
Protesters also joined in International Women’s Day protests across the world, including stripping nude in Brazil and Chile.