The Oldest Profession

Sex Laws Info

Maids – in Soho Walk-ups, and Elsewhere


Broadly speaking, single worker flats are lawful. There needs to be more than one person selling sex for the premises to be considered a brothel. However, problems can arise where rooms or flats in one building are let separately to different individuals offering sexual services. Typical of this are the “walk-ups” in Soho. The building may be treated as a brothel if the individuals are effectively working together. Evidence of shared keys, washing and toilet facilities, communal entrance, etc. could prove relevant. The Soho “walk-ups” appear to lie in the grey area between brothels and independent escorts, and although they have existed for at least half a century, they are never far away from controversy. Recent news items involving walk-ups can be seen here:

It’s important to note that the incidents referred to above did not involve specific criminal charges being made against the maids under the terms of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

Section 55 of The Sexual Offences Act of 2003, which became law in May 2004 contained an important amendment as far as the position of “maids” is concerned:

55. Penalties for keeping a brothel used for prostitution

  1. The Sexual Offences Act 1956 (c. 69) is amended as follows.
  2. After section 33 insert—
    "33A Keeping a brothel used for prostitution
    1. It is an offence for a person to keep, or to manage, or act or assist in the management of, a brothel to which people resort for practices involving prostitution (whether or not also for other practices).
    2. In this section “prostitution” has the meaning given by section 51(2) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.”

Depending on her duties, a maid in a single worker flat does not appear to be committing any criminal offence, provided that she does not control and gain from the work, or know that someone else does. Caution should be exercised if “maiding” a girl who is recently arrived in the country and who speaks little or no English, as there would be obvious concerns as to her capability to operate fully as an “independent” and could give rise to allegations of “control”. For all maids, irrespective of the type of premises in which they work, the notion of control is important because of Section 53 of the SOA 2003 (see below):
In view of this, it would be wise for the maid to restrict her duties to those of a purely domestic nature - cleaning and tidying, running errands, making tea/coffee and some basic secretarial services (probably best to avoid answering telephone enquiries from clients). It would be prudent to do nothing which could be taken to indicate any kind of “managerial” role.

The maid who works in a brothel is often in a more difficult position, and may well run the risk of arrest and prosecution if the brothel concerned attracts the attention of the authorities. There have been numerous cases where maids and receptionists have often found themselves being accused of assisting in the running and management of a brothel - and that's just as serious an offence as actually owning it. Indeed, it’s tempting to think that on occasion maids have taken the rap for someone higher up the food chain! Here is the relevant legislation, again from the SOA 2003:

53 Controlling prostitution for gain

  1. A person commits an offence if—
    (a) he intentionally controls any of the activities of another person relating to that person’s prostitution in any part of the world, and
    (b) he does so for or in the expectation of gain for himself or a third person.
  2. A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—
    (a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both;
    (b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years.

To infringe this, there has to be some degree of 'control' over the running of the business. If the maid has a say in which services are offered and how much is paid for them, recruitment, handling money, etc. this may well be seen as “control”.

It follows that things to avoid are: taking money from clients and noting its receipt in a cashbook; placing advertisements in newspapers; paying bills; hiring and firing staff; supplying materials; banking and book-keeping. All of these could be used to establish a sufficient degree of control for a prosecution to take place.

As already noted in connection with single-worker maids, routine activities such as admitting customers, cleaning, removing rubbish, making coffee or other duties of a mundane and trivial nature are probably insufficient evidence for the commission of a criminal offence under SOA 2003. In all instances, it would be sensible to provide a written job description of the maid’s duties which could be produced if necessary.

As to remuneration, if the maid is performing menial duties, it is surely reasonable to expect that her rate of pay should reflect this. It is sometimes claimed (as in one of the newspaper articles linked to above) that: “The maids, who claim they only get paid in tips, thus negating the control over prostitution for gain offence under the Sexual Offences Act” . We have reservations about the validity of this, especially if used as part of a defence. There is nothing in the SOA 2003 S.53 defining either the nature or the extent of “gain”. Nor does the extent of gain have any bearing on the degree of control. S. 53 1(b) also mentions the notion of gain for a third person. So, if the maid works only for tips for herself knowing that a third party (pimp?) profits substantially from her work, the extent of her remuneration becomes less significant. Also, we consider that the question of tips/wage is not the main issue where charges under S. 33A of SOA 1956 (as amended by S55 2.1 of SOA 2003) are concerned. However, if the maid has only received a modest return for her labours, it may pre-empt further and subsequent proceedings against her under Proceeds of Crime legislation. It could also be a mitigating factor in sentencing.

No two cases are ever the same, and each case must be treated on its own individual merits. However, the official line (if there is such a thing) comes from the Crown Prosecution Service Guidelines, (advice to Prosecutors):

“Brothel keepers should normally be prosecuted, especially if they are making money out of the enterprise. You have greater discretion in charging those who have assisted, such as receptionists. If the assistance is crucial to the operation of the brothel or the receptionist has been involved for a long period of time, a prosecution will normally be appropriate. If the assistance is minor or over a short period of time, a prosecution may not automatically result.”