I have seen a lot of disturbing content in the last 18 months. I am sure you can imagine. I don't need to show the graphic examples. Everything from child abuse victims to privileged white women dragging out images of so called prostituted ethnic minorities reminiscent of saving the natives colonialism.
I have seen it all. I thought I had seen it all. It saddens me that I have to write this post. I was actually filled with rage when I saw the image in question. I am a vocal opponent of the commonly used police tactic of using forced portraits of sex workers. Its an effective strategy for the continued oppression of sex workers and lets be honest, nothing convinces the middle class masses they are safe more than a photograph of police in action. I am continually amazed at the ways state agencies wield photography to degrade sex workers and how the general public suck this up as proof absolute of effective policing.
The mass circulation of a photograph of a vulnerable woman being arrested makes the chattering classes of a neighbourhood undergoing gentrification feel less vulnerable. Picking up the human filth from the pristine over priced streets. The illusion of safety. The propaganda of gentrification. Police view sex workers as devalued commodities and extend this commodification to their visual representation. When a sex worker encounters law enforcement they are robbed of their photographic representation, ownership transfers to the state. These stolen images subsequently inform the social landscape influencing draconian legislation that renders the sex worker dehumanised.
A few weeks back Hackney Police - Brownswood SNT circulated a photograph to 5000 residents. The photograph depicted an easily identifiable vulnerable member of the local community being arrested for street walking. The police made no efforts to conceal the woman's face. Why would they? This was an ideal public relations moment for the Hackney Police. The photograph was accompanied by an article proudly boasting of moving these degenerate prostitutes out of the neighbourhood. If this is Hackney Police taking a holistic approach to sex work then I'd hate to witness the inhumane approach.
I am grateful that Hackney Police do not carry guns given how unethically they wield cameras.
The photo is below. I have crudely edited the women in question out. Took me less than a minute. If only Hackney Police payed the woman the same courtesy. There are other ways to visually demonstrate a crack down on prostitution. I am at a loss to think why the go to image was one of shame. They effectively outed a sex worker to 5000 residents.
I find many aspects of the publication of this image questionable. Not sure what bothers me more. The blatant lack of consequential thinking on behalf of Hackney Police or the gleeful shaming of a sex worker. It reminds me of a hunter holding up the dead bloodied carcass of his unfortunate catch.
Images have a traceable life path. All Images are networked. This image will never be out of circulation. Despite Hackney Police deleting the offending image, the photograph is now on a journey. It will proliferate online. Delivered to new viewers via social media platforms. The transmission and reception of this image is now unstoppable. Hackney Police have robbed this woman of her photographic agency for a cheap publicity back slapping stunt. In poor image selection, Hackney Police have demonstrated their pathological disregard for the safety and well being of sex workers. The journey of this ill conceived photograph will be endless and will continue long after this poor woman has been forced out of her community.
I've printed it. Its pinned to my wall as a daily reminder as to why photography matters in the fight for sex worker rights.