"We are campaigning for the abolition of prostitution laws in order to end the criminalisation of sex workers. Far from protecting women, the laws make all women vulnerable, in particular to violence. Prostitutes who report violence are often accused of `asking for it' as police don't consider the life of an illegal worker worth protecting, even less so if she is black or an immigrant. Working collectively from premises is safer - it is 10 times more dangerous to work on the streets - and less exploitative. But it is illegal: two women prostitutes sharing premises constitutes a brothel.

Prostitutes are deprived of rights, and criminal records keep women in prostitution, refused jobs because of convictions. In 1995 we helped two women bring the first private prosecution for rape in England after the Crown Prosecution Service refused to prosecute - one of the women was told, `you are a prostitute, you won't be believed'. But the jury convicted. On Mother's Day at London's Crossroads Women's Centre, a mother from Manchester told an audience about her daughter who was murdered on the streets while earning money to support her children. She said the police were putting little effort into catching the murderer. Yet they seem to have time and resources to arrest women. Not surprisingly, violent men attack prostitutes with impunity. And, as the Yorkshire Ripper showed, any woman on the streets can be taken for a prostitute.

Like this Manchester victim, most sex workers are mothers struggling to feed their families. But the work of raising children is not valued. Instead of being supported with financial alternatives - increased benefits and resources - women are prosecuted and forced back on to the streets to pay the fines. For those who pay 80 per cent of their earnings in fines, the State is the biggest pimp."

Cari Mitchell is a worker at the English Collective of Prostitutes


"I think legalisation is the worst idea ever. It's been tried elsewhere and it has worked wonderfully for the pimps and for the punters and the police who really don't wish to see this as a policing issue but as a private and social issue, but it hasn't worked for the women. The pro-prostitution lobby says that legalisation makes it safer for the women, that it locates prostitution as a job like any other and that it provides a steady income. What it is actually doing is making pimps third-party managers, it means that the state is legalising and condoning the widescale abuse of women.

Where there have been legalised brothels, you see more abuse of women, you see more children being pimped into prostitution. You also see a lot of underground, unregulated prostitution because in order to legalise brothels you have to have a licence. The disreputable pimps and the least enfranchised women, the ones who find it difficult to cope, and that's the majority of working prostitutes, will go underground because they won't be invited into the licensed saunas and massage parlours.

Legalisation normalises prostitution, and the more that you normalise it the fewer choices women have to look at it as abuse, and then the more likely it is that you'll have women going into it and staying in it. People can't imagine a world without prostitution because we've never had that - but you have to strive for that because otherwise what you're doing is mopping up a mess. You're allowing men to abuse, and once you start saying that prostitution is work, the men simply become customers buying a product. They are just part of the job market which is outrageous."

Julie Bindel is a researcher at Leeds Metropolitan University and co- ordinator of the curb-crawlers re-education programme