10/04/2013 13:37 BST | Updated 10/06/2013 06:12 BST

Treat Attacks Against Sex Workers as 'Hate Crimes' Before Someone Gets Murdered


Using the term 'hate crime' leaves many people cold or, worse, provokes irritation. I understand why - that was my first reaction to the term! It implies that a select few should have legal privileges by being categorised as a priority. But this is absolutely not what the term 'hate crime' is about.

Last week Manchester Police announced that offences against members of alternative subcultures - such as 'goths' - would be treated as 'hate crimes'. I hope this has a domino effect and the Metropolitan Police and other forces adopt a similar approach towards vulnerable groups.

Using the term 'hate crime' is not about giving any group special treatment. In fact, usually the groups in this category are those who have historically received worse treatment from the police. This is about accepting that some criminals are effectively bullies who target people, not because they are a threat or have money, but because of the vulnerable minority with whom they are associated. As a result, these individuals are disproportionately targeted and yet are often reluctant to report abuse.

'Twelve times more likely to be murdered'

However, I believe there is a gaping hole in the current list of 'hate crime' victim types. There is a group in London who are at least 12 times more likely to be murdered than the national average. And approximately three quarters of those within this category will also be subjected to violence, assault and rape. I refer to sex workers.

My report, Silence on Violence, found evidence that gangs are increasingly attacking and robbing sex workers due to a deliberate belief that their attacks will be underreported. Research also consistently showed that sex workers were increasingly unwilling to report crimes against them. This is partly caused by the fact that when sex workers report crime, police were seen to be prioritising laws against brothels and illegal immigrants above the crimes committed against them.

Merseyside already labels attacks against sex workers as hate crimes. By doing so they created a well-publicised message that crimes against sex workers would not go unpunished. Merseyside has also seen increased conviction rates and relations between police and sex worker have dramatically improved.

Criminals often target sex workers and other 'hate crime' groups, before moving on to the wider public. Two of the most notorious serial killers Peter Sutcliffe and Gary Leon Ridgway initially murdered sex workers before targeting other women. So if we can get sex workers to report crimes, everyone gains.

During the trial of Sutcliffe, the Attorney General stated that, "Some [victims] were prostitutes, but perhaps the saddest part of this case is that some were not" and the judge gave the jury the following advice: If Sutcliffe mistakenly believed that he had killed only prostitutes, "then the correct verdict was probably manslaughter", not murder. Meanwhile Ridgeway stated that "I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted". It is because of these types of sentiments that a group should gain 'hate crime' status.

We need to label crimes against sex workers as hate crimes. Gangs are increasingly targeting them. They are reporting less crimes to police. It's is only a matter of time before someone gets murdered as a result.

Andrew Boff, London-wide Assembly Member and Leader of the GLA Conservatives, has written a report about improving the safety of sex workers, which can be found here.