Sheila Farmer Campaign
Update, January 2012: Sheila’s case has been dropped!
Ms Farmer’s trial was thrown out because of police and prosecution incompetence – witnesses had not been asked to attend court and a key witness could not be found. Ms Farmer has attended court six times and the case has been listed to start on two previous occasions. (from a statement by the English Collective of Prostitutes).
Sheila has written in the Guardian today: Life is hard enough for prostitutes without our work being criminalised
“It’s enough for two prostitutes to live or work together for us to be illegal. I worked alone. Within months, I was attacked, raped repeatedly, tied up, held hostage, and nearly strangled. I gave evidence against my attacker but he got off. I suffered years of nightmares and panic attacks and decided never to work alone again. Using my prostitution earnings I trained for five years to become a counsellor, only to have my chances of getting a job scuppered by a CRB check exposing my prostitution.
By this time I was working with friends because it was safer. That’s when I suffered my second major attack. We were robbed at gunpoint by a gang who had targeted hundreds of flats in the south of England. Most victims would not go to the police for fear of being prosecuted. Despite threats to my life and my flat being petrol bombed, I gave evidence and was commended by the judge for my bravery.
We moved to another flat and within a few months were raided. I was arrested and charged with brothel-keeping. I decided to fight the case as my tumour is now malignant and my time is running out. Who has a right to judge me?”
This amazing victory is due to the work of the English Collective of Prostitutes, who continue to campaign tirelessly for the welfare and safety of women like Sheila. Thank you so much to everyone who supported her, even if it was just to read about her case. A little public scrutiny makes a huge difference, meaning that unjust prosecutions like this one cannot go through. We ask that you continue to support the English Collective of Prostitutes in their work. You can do so by signing their petition to decriminalise sex work and prioritise safety.
Who is Sheila Farmer?
Sheila Farmer describes herself as a ‘sex worker being prosecuted for working together with other women for safety.’ Her case perfectly illustrates what SlutWalk London is working against: how outdated attitudes endanger women’s lives and freedoms. The anti-sex work crusade of both illiberal feminists and the conservative right hides a dark, ugly truth of repression, shaming and persecution. Women’s lives are endangered by laws and attitudes that silence their voices and force them into further isolation and victimisation. Sheila Farmer very kindly agreed to speak at SlutWalk London in 2011 and we ask that you support her by asking for this case to be dropped immediately. Ms Farmer’s trial will take place on the 3rd January 2012.
Who is Sheila Farmer?
Ms Sheila Farmer has been a diabetic since childhood and is seriously ill with a malignant brain tumour. Yet she has been charged with managing a brothel and is facing an onerous trial and criminal record. Ms Farmer used to work on her own but after only six months she was viciously attacked by a man who raped her repeatedly, tried to strangle her and kept her tied up for hours. He was deported after an Old Bailey trial. Fearful of another attack, Ms Farmer vowed never to work alone. She has worked with friends for the past 17 years. Ill health has forced her to cut down so she has taken on co-ordinating clients for other women. Ms Farmer says ‘I believe strongly that women working as we were should be left alone. The laws are antiquated. I was earning money to pay for my cancer treatment. This moral crusade is making criminals out of women like me.’ Ms Farmer’s flat was raided by the police in August 2010. Following complaints by some neighbours, police officers visited and saw there was no force or coercion. To make things easier Ms Farmer agreed to move. Yet while she was in the process of moving she was arrested. Her insulin was taken from her and she was only released from police custody after a doctor said that her health would be in serious danger if she were to be held any longer. Ms Farmer has never coerced anyone into work. On the contrary, she has taken great care to protect women from attack. At personal risk, despite threats and retribution, she appeared as a witness in court to ensure the conviction of an armed gang that had attacked hundreds of working women in the south of England. Ms Farmer is a mother trying to survive in harsh economic times. She only went into sex work because diabetes caused her to lose too much of her vision to keep her job as an IT consultant. Ms Farmer is struggling to survive two serious health conditions. Her consultant has written to the court: “I am afraid the future is uncertain and one can almost guarantee that the tumour will grow and progress in the relatively near future. If possible it would be medically justifiable to try and avoid any stress associated with any prolonged Court hearing.”
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SlutWalk London 2012!
Sheila Farmer's prosecution dropped
Photos: Tom Radenz and Claire Butler