by Kirstie Summers
January 2018

“After more than twenty years out of prostitution, I am still having to explain my criminal record to any prospective employer,” says Fiona Broadfoot. “It feels like explaining my history of abuse.”

Fiona was coerced into selling sex after meeting a pimp at the age of fifteen. To this day, she has a conviction of “loitering for the purposes of being a common prostitute” on her permanent record.

She is one of a group of women who are suing the government over criminal record checks that harm their ability to work and live their lives after escaping forced prostitution. Convictions such as these restrict their opportunity for employment, education or even volunteering within their communities. This not only damages their ability to earn a living, but also to have an active involvement in their neighbourhood and even the lives of their children.

The case was heard in the High Court and we are waiting for the outcome which may take weeks. It argues that, by retaining and disclosing these convictions, the current policy violates the Modern Slavery Act, as the women in question were forced into selling sex as teenagers.

If this case is successful, it could pave the way for a new attitude towards women in prostitution in the UK, which in turn could make it easier for women to escape the lingering ramifications of their past. Harriet Winstrich, the Birnberg Peirce solicitor acting on behalf of the women, claims that the current law “continues to punish victims” of sex trafficking.

This could be the first step towards new legislation that stops targeting women who are victims of an oppressive sex industry and instead penalises the men who take advantage of those women.

Many of the claimants in this case have chosen to remain anonymous.

One said, “It doesn’t matter what it is – trying to help out at my kids’ school or the local Brownies’ coffee morning, trying to be a governor or a councillor, applying to education or training or employment – even volunteering in so many fields – with children, with the elderly, in care, with vulnerable people, with youth work, with social work – all need a DBS and then you get treated like some sort of pariah or sex offender. 

"But it’s not fair – I never chose that life and I fought hard to get out of it but I’m always being pulled back to it as though that’s who I am, but it’s not who I am.” 

FiLiA supports this legal challenge, as well as the Abolitionist Model which seeks to criminalise the men who buy sex, thereby decreasing the demand which feeds a global trade in disadvantaged women.