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 Her case perfectly illustrates what SlutWalk London is working against: how outdated attitudes endanger women’s lives and freedoms.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 has very kindly agreed to speak at SlutWalk London and we ask that you support her by reading this statement and asking for this case to be dropped immediately. Ms Farmer’s trial will take place on the 5th September 2011.
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.”
Not only does Ms Farmer face a prolonged trial, she faces up to seven years in prison. Why is this prosecution being brought?
The laws which force sex workers to work in isolation and make us more vulnerable to attack must be abolished. For safety’s sake, decriminalize.