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From Heidi Fleiss taking part in a recent series of Celebrity Big Brother, to Brooke Magnanti reflecting on life since she was "outed" as Belle de Jour, you might think the "world's oldest profession" is now an acceptable means of earning a living in Britain. Trust me, it isn't.

Last month, the most controversial piece of legislation affecting the sex industry in decades, the Policing and Crime Act, came into force. Following months of pressure on the government to legislate on sex trafficking, the Act is partly a vehicle for addressing this highly contentious issue. It's contentious because the statistics on how many sex workers are trafficked are not reliable. Currently, the Home Office estimates that there are 4,000 trafficked sex workers in the UK. But this is based on Office Pentameter, an intelligence-based police investigation which raided 1,337 premises (around 10 per cent of the total) and found just 255 victims, equivalent to only 2,550 across the entire industry. But whatever the accurate figure, the Act will do little to rescue victims of trafficking. Rather, it will endanger all sex workers, trafficked or otherwise, by forcing them to operate in isolation, or risk breaking the law.

Under its Clause 14, "paying for sexual services of a prostitute subjected to force" is now illegal, with the client bearing full liability. Not knowing the sex worker was trafficked is no defence. One would have thought a law aimed at helping the victims of trafficking would define them as "coerced" or "trafficked", as indeed the UN Palermo protocol does. Instead, the oblique phrasing of "subjected to force", which, does not have to be violent, merely "exploitative", means that any sex worker who receives help or instruction from another could be considered illegally enslaved by this definition.

Clause 21, which relates to closure orders, is similarly damning. This gives police the power to raid any premises a) where they suspect sex workers "controlled for gain" are working, b) which they suspect is an unlicensed brothel (defined by law as two or more sex workers trading together), or c) where they believe there is drug use or where they have received complaints of anti-social behaviour (which can even be the act of sex work itself). In combination, Clauses 14 and 21 make it impossible to operate, however loosely, alongside any other prostitute or dominatrix, thereby eradicating the means of mutual protection upon which those working in such a stigmatised, criminalised occupation have long depended. What's more, police have a vested interest in raiding brothels — under the Proceeds of Crime Act (2002), they may keep 25 per cent of any assets confiscated both at the time of investigation and from subsequent prosecutions. 

Let me put the new Act into context. When I began work as a dominatrix, I assisted my "mentor" as a "trainee", before gaining the experience and confidence necessary to session alone. Besides there being a sense of camaraderie, working together greatly increased our safety — both when sessioning with a man who might be larger and stronger than the two of us put together and when we left the premises late at night. Unscrupulous punters might loiter around flats and mug the girls they have just paid. 

But were we to session together now, under the Clause 14 amendment, my "mentor" could be charged with "controlling" me, and, if we were ever caught together, our landlady (also a sex worker) would be arrested for running an unlicensed brothel. We would have just 48 hours in which to procure legal representation and appear in court to defend the closure. And all this on mere "suspicion" that we were operating illegally. Unless we could secretly set up again elsewhere, we would be restricted to visiting the client, which brings its own set of risks, and, of course, to doing so alone. 

For those whose income relies on sex working, expulsion from "brothels" could leave only one other option: streetwalking, arguably the most dangerous outpost of the trade — not the place we would expect a responsible government to edge anyone towards. 

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Anonymous
April 7th, 2014
3:04 PM
so is it legal then to practice domme as a paid career? im still confused with the answers given. and what are the guidelines in pa where it becomes illegal to practice massage without a license?,, i love doing sensual massage but im guessing i cannot touch the private parts?

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