Is Soho’s red light reputation dimming? On Tuesday evening, six sex workers at 26 Romilly Street in Soho were evicted from two flats there after the Metropolitan Police closed down the premises. A demonstration to protest the eviction was held today and some of the women involved in the eviction spoke about their future. ‘We will all lose our livelihoods. I’ve been working in Soho for 33 years, first as a working woman and now as a receptionist. We are not criminals. We are mothers and grandmothers supporting families,’ said Tracy, who worked in one of the Romilly Street flats. ‘It is likely I will end up on the street and be less safe,’ said Leyla, a sex worker also based in the Romilly Street flats. ‘Soho is the safest place in the UK for sex workers,’ says Cari Mitchell from the English Collective of Prostitutes, which campaigns for sex workers’ rights, and organised the demonstration. ‘It is a community that has always protected them and there have been walk-up flats here for centuries.’
Legally, sex workers are allowed to operate from such flats if they are the only person offering sexual services (although maids and receptionists can work alongside them). If more than one sex worker is based in the flat it constitutes a brothel, and working in or managing a brothel is illegal under the UK’s current sex laws. The ECP says that the Met has no evidence to prove the flats were brothels. The Met disagrees. ‘Properties being used as a brothel do break the law and police will take action where appropriate, as we have done over a number of years,’ said Asim Bashir from the Met.
Other sex workers using flats in nearby Peter St have been told they are to be evicted in January. It is believed that the evictions are to make way for a major development in the area. Plans have already been submitted to Westminster Council for a 4,600 sq m project that will include a new 150-seat theatre at adjacent Walker’s Court, and there are concerns that the eviction of sex workers is the first step in a wholesale gentrification of the area that will close down small shops, bars and clubs. ‘If the sex workers are forced out it will undermine the unique character of Soho, and the other small businesses here know that if sex industry is forced out, they might be next for the chop,’ says Cari Mitchell. Rebecca Taylor