Attacking Buyers: Anti- Kerb-Crawling Strategies
|Click on a button below...||
"It used to be £20 for straight sex in a car but now the going rate is £10. I used to be out from 7–10.30 p.m. and could earn £130. Now I can be out from 5 p.m. until midnight and I might go home with just £40. It’s too easy for men to get caught on the well-lit main roads now, so we’re forced into dark side streets where we can’t take number plates or get a good look at a client before we decide whether or not he is safe to get in the car with. And there’s a lot of tension and hostility between the women that just wasn’t there before."
(Julia, quoted in Campbell & Storr, 2001)
Action against buyers of sex may come in the form of action against Kerb crawling. This policing technique has been used in many areas if the UK and France, but whilst feminists welcome the shifting of the emphasis from the supply to the demand, one study argues that the effect of reducing the client base has severe negative effects on sex workers. "During 1998–9 one initiative, which aimed to target men who pay for sex in the UK, the Kerb Crawler Rehabilitation Programme (KCRP), was piloted in Leeds, West Yorkshire… Fewer clients means women have to work extended hours to earn the sums of money they require for their subsistence (which may include drug-use). Increased competition for clients between sex workers means prices are depressed. There is likely to be a shift to later hours of working, to avoid police and to make contact with clients. This may also be combined with earlier hours of working in order to tap into a broader market of clients; earlier working in daytime hours can create more conflict with residents."
The Campbell & Storr paper accuses feminist researchers whose ideas fuelled the initiative failed to do research among sex workers themselves: "A crucial lesson for feminists to consider when involving themselves in policy development is the potential impact of policy on sex workers and the need to consult sex workers about their own needs and views. Initiatives which treat sex
workers as objects of concern rather than as subjects – no matter how well intentioned – sit uneasily with feminist politics.
On-street prostitution occurs in few cities in the UK, in London for example, it accounts for only around 2% of sex workers. "Street working prostitutes are often those with fewest options in terms of employment in other areas of the sex industry or in other jobs or education… ‘Targeting their clients further erodes their livelihood and further serves to marginalise them’, and that a potential impact of the KCRP was therefore ‘to contribute further to their hardship’
It seems to go without saying that not only will action against clients have negative effects for sex workers’ safety and health, but when sex work is the only means of subsistence, often exacerbated by drug dependency, reducing the demand for prostitutes will mean sex workers seek alternative methods of making ends meet.
Campbell & Storr conclude "Of course the appeal to some feminists of initiatives such as the KCRP can be understood, particularly in the light of feminist analyses that identify prostitution as a form of violence against women. Certainly, as O’Connell Davidson writes: To the extent that such moves reflect a growing discomfort with the legal harassment of prostitutes and the hypocrisy and sexism inherent in traditional prostitution law and law-enforcement practice, they are to be welcomed. But, unless meaningful steps to address the structures that drive people into prostitution are simultaneously taken, legal and other measures aimed at preventing prostitute use will do little to improve the lot of those who are exploited by prostitute users. (O’Connell Davidson, 1998: 199)"
Despite this strong criticism, attacking kerb crawlers is a policy which is very much alive – in April 2002, police in Middlesbrough applied to Magistrates to be able to confiscate the vehicles used by buyers in an effort to reduce on-street prostitution.