Photo: Flickr / Dietmar Temps
Brothels are being shut down and prostitutes banned from the streets ahead of the Olympic Games in an effort to make London more presentable, it has been claimed.A report into sex workers in London has found more than 10 times the number of brothel raids in five Olympic boroughs compared with other areas of London.
In the past year, a total of 80 brothels have been closed in Newham, Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Greenwich and Waltham Forest in the past year, compared with just 29 across the remaining boroughs.
In Tower Hamlets, charity workers say the number of arrests in 2012 has already exceeded the total for the whole of last year.
They also identified an increasing tendency for sex workers to be given extra bail conditions, including curfews and orders to move out of particular areas.
They claim the conditions, which include banning prostitutes from the street overnight, are actually exacerbating the problem in the long term, with prostitutes made increasingly vulnerable.
A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police denied their approach to prostitution had been affected by the Olympic Games and stated that they were instead responding to community concerns.
A report compiled by Andrew Boff, a member of the London Assembly, into sex workers in the city found: “Raids have increased significantly overall in the Olympic host boroughs.
“There appears to have been a disproportionate number of brothel raids in the Olympic areas.”
It calculated the Olympic areas had experienced 14 raids per borough, compared with just 1.16 for any other borough in London, within seven months.
Miriam Merkova, from charity Toynbee Hall which works with prostitutes, said she had noticed a sharp increase in the number of arrests and bail conditions imposed on prostitutes.
She said: “We don’t have all the figures yet, because there are still arrests being processed. One woman, for example, is recorded as being charged twice, but says she has been arrested seven times already this year.
“But last year we had 44 arrests for 22 women. This year we’ve had 48 arrests for 29 women already.
“We began noticing the difference towards the end of December, and what we are seeing is that the conditions of bail are changing.
“Previously they would receive a fine and would be sent to us to complete a programme, but now they are being given curfews and conditions stating they are not allowed in particular areas.
“We find that quite draconian for an offence of soliciting or loitering.
“We have a situation where a man who violently attacks a number of clients would not be given the same orders to leave the borough or a particular area.
“I absolutely think that it’s the image rather than the safety of residents that is the problem.”
She added the extra conditions would not help the problem of prostitution in the long term.
She said: “It doesn’t stop women going out to work. Some of them have been selling sex since they were 13, are Class A drug users, vulnerably housed, poorly education with no formal employment.
“The way to help them is to try to unravel those issues rather than push them away into areas where they are even more vulnerable.
“When you have an environment full of fear, there is desperation. Women will take more risks, going with men they wouldn’t usually go with and allowing them to demand more.”
Georgina Perry, service manager at Open Doors which helps sex workers in Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets, said: “There is a hysteria surrounding major sporting events where people wrongly fear there will be some massive influx of trafficked sex workers.
“This leads to clamping down on prostitutes, where they are pushed out and their lives are made more dangerous.
“For the last two years there have been constant brothel closures. Women are being displaced and are less able to protect themselves.
“When anything happens to them – the vicious attacks perpetrated by real criminals – they feel they cannot report it to the police because they will be arrested themselves.”
A spokesman for the Met Police said: “Our work is not because of the Games.
“Local enforcement operations are carried out in response to community concerns to deal with the negative impact on street prostitution has on local residents and to assist vulnerable women from breaking the cycle of offending.
“ASBOs and bail conditions have long been a tactical option in dealing with on street prostitution, as with all types of crime, and have proved effective.”
A spokesman for Tower Hamlets council told The Times: “The work we are doing with the police to tackle prostitution is not related to the Olympics. Our residents have raised it as a concern.”
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