Prostitution should be decriminalised to protect the health and welfare of sex workers, nurses have said.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is to start actively lobbying the Government to change the law following a vote at the union’s conference in Liverpool.
Louise Cahill, a clinical nurse specialist in sexual health from south-west England, said the law “forces them into riskier situations”, with women exposed to violence and attacks as they cannot work together and help each other stay safe.
She said: “Sex workers have to choose between keeping safe and getting arrested. No one should be put in danger by the law.
“If you want to end sex work, end poverty. This is a fundamental human rights issue.”
Jason Warriner, of the RCN’s public health forum, said: “I fully support decriminalisation. This is about rights and safety. But we also need to look at support and helping people move away from sex work.”
But Abigail Lawrence, from the RCN’s eastern region, disagreed with the move.
“The sex industry is by its very nature exploitative, manipulative and based on coercion. The model not only decriminalises prostitution but also brothel owners, pimps and buyers.”
Margaret Devlin, from the RCN’s southern branch in Northern Ireland, said: “An explosion in demand and trafficking always follows decriminalisation.”
Nikki Adams, from the English Collective of Prostitutes, said: “It is a really important move. Criminalisation drives people underground.
“That puts women at risk in terms of their safety. We hear of cases where women have been attacked or raped – they report it to the police and then get prosecuted themselves.
“It also discourages them from seeking help from health services because they are worried they will have to give details about what they do and that will be reported to the police.”