Two protesters hold placards. One says "Fight Violence not Sex Workers"

March to End Violence Against Sex Workers

Bristol Sex Workers’ Collective led a march through central Bristol tonight (December 17) in a protest to end violence and stigmatisation targeted at sex workers. 

The protest started as a vigil on College Green with speeches from 6.00pm to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Sex Workers. At 6.30, the crowd of around 50 people set off on a short march to Castle Park. 

Speaking after the march, Alice, of Bristol Sex Workers’ Collective (BSWC) said: ‘We’re campaigning to end violence against sex workers and we’re campaingning for decriminalisation. 

‘We recognise and advocate that decriminalisation is the best harm-reduction policy that can be taken to end violence towards sex workers.’

A crowd of people see from behind as they listen to a speaker.
The vigil on College Green. Image: James Ward.

The protest comes just two days before the deadline of a Bristol City Council consultation on the possible closure of Bristol’s Sexual Entertainment Venues (SEVs). 

The council currently allows three SEVs in the city, one in Old Market and two in the centre. They are consulting on the introduction of a “nil-cap” policy which would reduce the allowed number of SEVs to zero, forcing the closure of the existing venues. 

In an open letter to the council, BSWC say that the nil-cap would push the industry underground, resulting in a much less safe working environment for performers. They also point out the hypocrisy of those who argue that SEVs promote violence against women when the highest rates of such violence in Bristol are around nightclubs, not SEVs. 

Chloe, a member of BSWC present for the vigil and march, said: ‘Keeping the SEVs open is more about harm-reduction’ since people will engage in sex work anyway. ‘We want to make sure that they’re in a place where they’re protected, where it’s regulated, where they can seek justice for any violence that happens there.’

Chloe recounts the story of a friend of hers who was assaulted whilst at work in an SEV. Because her workplace was regulated, she was able to call the police and even prosecute the person who assaulted her. 

‘Things like that we wouldn’t be able to do if things were pushed underground. Because they do, they do get pushed underground,’ said Chloe.

Keeping the SEVs open is more about harm-reduction

Bristol Women’s Commission (BWC), a group of representatives from Bristol charities and authorities, argue for a nil-cap, saying that SEVs reinforce gender stereotypes and normalise the objectification of women, which they claim is ‘consistently associated’ with sexual violence. 

However, today, a prominent member of Bristol Women’s Commissions, Anna Smith, CEO of One25 and chair of the BWC task group pushing for a nil-cap, broke ranks and issued a public apology for supporting the cap, stating that campaigning for a nil-cap ‘does not align’ with One25’s ethos of being non-judgemental towards women facing stigmatisation. 

Smith went on to say: ‘I now recognise that it was unhelpful for me to be involved with the work in support of a nil cap on SEVs as this has led to confusion about One25’s position with regards to sex work.’

A previous consultation on SEVs in 2019 found that the majority of Bristolians are happy with their presence in the city centre. Launched alongside the current consultation in March this year,  a petition calling for the council to stop the nil-cap has gathered over 6,850 signatures.

Observed annually on December 17 since 2003, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Sex Workers seeks to draw attention to violence and hate crimes sex workers face, and attempts to de-stigmatise sex work. 

The consultation can be accessed here and must be completed by December 19. BSWC have published a guide to filling it in here.

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