Although much of the last year has been locked away with strict guidelines in place to limit the spread of Covid-19, Thames Valley police still recorded 15 prostitution-related offenses in Berkshire – only four fewer than in 2019.
This includes eight soliciting offenses for the purpose of prostitution and seven exploitation of prostitution.
Solicitation offenses can be sex workers loitering around street corners, or people trying to pick up a prostitute, for example by “crawling on the sidewalk”.
Exploitation can include the use of force, threats, deception or other forms of coercion to force someone to have sex.
But according to the English Collective of Prostitutes, it could also mean the offense of “running a brothel,” which it said could include two women working together for security.
Three of the breaches – all operational – took place during the first lockdown, when all shops, hotels, bars and restaurants were ordered to close.
At that time, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told people to “stay at home” in order to “protect the NHS” and “save lives”.
Six more – all by solicitation – took place between October and December.
At that time, after restrictions eased over the summer, Covid-19 infection rates again skyrocketed as the second wave of the virus spread across the country.
Wearing the mask had become part of daily life and restrictions had been reintroduced, with England entering a new three-tier lockdown system.
Berkshire was placed at level 3, which faced the most stringent restrictions, but was later moved to a new level 4.
In Berkshire, Reading appears to be the hotspot for prostitution offenses. Nine infractions were recorded last year at Reading, plus three more at Oxford and one each at Bracknell Forest, Slough and South Oxfordshire.
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There were a total of 556 infractions last year, up from 659 in 2019. Across England and Wales, figures show fears over Covid-19, coupled with lockdown restrictions, have brought down prostitution offenses by 16% in 2020 compared to the previous year.
Some 43 soliciting offenses and 50 exploitation of prostitution took place during the first lockout between April and June, a total of 93.
The numbers then more than doubled with the relaxation of restrictions over the summer, with a total of 195 prostitution-related offenses recorded between July and September – 77 of exploitation and 118 of soliciting.
But, even as infection rates started to climb again and restrictions were reintroduced, the numbers remained high between October and December.
During this period, a total of 154 offenses were committed, 92 people were arrested soliciting for the purpose of prostitution and 62 were investigated for exploitation of prostitution.
Last year, more offenses were recorded in Nottingham than in any other town or village in the country, a total of 57.
Soliciting for the purpose of prostitution can be punished with a fine of up to £ 1,000, if the offender has already been convicted, or £ 500 for a first offense.
Exploitation of prostitution can carry a prison sentence of up to seven years, depending on the severity.
Like many more conventional industries, the coronavirus has plunged the sex trade – the “oldest profession” – into crisis.
But while most industries have been able to access emergency public funds to pay employees, sex workers are denied “worker” status – meaning they don’t have the same rights and rights. .
The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) claims that “criminalization, stigma and discrimination” are forcing sex workers to “live in the shadows” which means the crisis is more hidden.
“ Win your living or risk our health ”
ECP spokesperson Niki Adams said: “Most sex workers are mothers and any income they earn will support entire families.
“The pandemic has hit sex workers like everyone else.
“The income of sex workers is declining and for some women it has almost disappeared.
“Some women turn to non-contact forms of sex work like camming when possible.
“Women who work in the streets, migrant and trans workers, who already have the highest rates of poverty, arrest and violence, suffer particularly.
“Like other workers, we are forced to choose between earning an income and risking our health and that of our loved ones.
“Contacts with health professionals and contact tracing measures are hampered by criminalization because we cannot say what we do or who we know for fear of arrest and discrimination.
“We need to have access to emergency money. Sex workers are denied the status of workers and therefore we are denied the rights and rights that other workers may have.
“Many of us, and the families who depend on our income, will face misery if we cannot access all the emergency money workers earn from the government.
“If the contribution of sex workers to the survival and well-being of people were more visible, our status would increase and our claims would be considered more valid.